There’s a tree across the street from my house, just to the right, fully visible through the window panes of my front porch. It bends and twists and stretches slightly crooked up to the sky. On mornings like today, the sun touches it little by little, and it seems so impossibly vibrant, the green of its leaves filling the world with bursts of color. Its branches stretch across the road, its leaves in giant clusters. This tree would be perfect to climb, to bring a good book and rest in its solitude for hours, hearing only the sound of birds and wind and the occasional car.
I have seen this tree a thousand times since I moved into my house a year ago. Day after day after day I drive by this tree. In the fall, I’m sure I saw its many leaves change from green to gold to red to orange. I’m sure I saw it bloom this spring, its blossoms swaying in the wind. I’m sure I’ve seen it every day.
Today was the first day I noticed this tree.
Today was the first day I noticed the green of its leaves, the kind of green from a Crayola factory. Today was the first day I noticed the way it bends and twists and curves, the way it stretches so high in the sky. Today was the first day I noticed it through the window panes of my front porch.
A million tiny, beautiful gifts cascade from the Father to my life. They come in the form of trees, of clear blue skies, of coffee dates and dinner dates and movie nights with friends. A million tiny, beautiful gifts cascade, and I notice very few.
Instead of gratitude, my heart constantly seems to be penetrated by a subtle yet powerful darkness—discontent, wanting more. Always discontent. Always wanting more. This darkness looks like comparison, like discouragement, like seeking and seeking and seeking. Rushing and rushing and rushing. What’s new? What’s next? What’s better? Anything is better than this.
And while I don’t believe I am alone in the struggle, I think those who wrestle with this kind of discontentment fail to talk about the deep darkness that comes with a heart that always seeks more, seeks the new, the next, the better.
It seems it is a struggle against God himself, against the place and the purpose and the plans he has set me in. It seems it is a struggle against his goodness and his faithfulness, a struggle against his love and his grace. It seems it is a struggle against the good and beautiful and perfect things he has placed in my life day after day after day after day.
Like the air I breathe in and out. Like the roof over my head. Like the warmth of my bed.
Like this tree that bends and twists and curves.
In recent weeks, I began to peel back the layers of my discontented soul and heard a small whisper from the Lord, a still small voice that begged me to step an inch closer to the Father’s heart.
Pause. Notice. Be grateful.
It was a call to push out the darkness, to push out the discontentment. It was a call to enter into thankfulness, to dependence, to joy.
So I’ve created a new habit. Every morning, I find my way to the front porch. Some days I am wide awake. Other days I fight off sleep with every step. In the stillness of my peaceful town, I pause and notice, and as I notice, I make a list of ten things I am grateful for. And each evening after I climb into bed, I pause and notice, and as I notice, I make a list of ten things I am grateful for. Every morning, every evening, a list of ten things.
After a little while of this, I began to notice new things. I noticed a million tiny, beautiful gifts that daily wash over my life. I noticed the sound of birds outside. I noticed the smell of the early-morning air. I noticed laughter shared with friends.
I noticed my tree.
And my heart that was so detached from the gifts of the Father began to beat a bit differently. The darkness has begun to run because there is little place for discontentment when there is gratitude. There is little place for comparison when there is joy. And inch by inch, I feel as if this gratitude takes my hand and walks me a step closer to the heart of Jesus.
My list of ten things each morning and ten things each evening are small steps. They are small stakes in the ground that declare the work of the Father. They draw attention to the details he is orchestrating, to the gifts he has given.
They point out the things I have passed by a thousand times and never once noticed. They point out only a few of the million tiny, beautiful gifts that cascade from the Father. And they beckon my heart to the heart of the Father. They call my soul to rest and rejoice, to say thank you, to point out the beauty of this incredible life I have been given.
And they point out trees, trees that bend and curve and twist. Those big and beautiful trees.