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Bad Dreams Are Good for Something

Imagine this. You have a dream about something you've been dreading. It goes badly. You screw up, or the whole shebang goes south in the most drastic way. It's a worst-case scenario as it can only be in dreams.

Then you wake up and realize—DEEP BREATH—it was just a dream. Maybe you've already done the dreaded thing, or maybe circumstances have changed and spared you from that fate. Either way, what follows is that inevitable feeling of gratitude flooding every sense and tingling in your first few breaths of morning. Reflexive gratitude. Instinctual. As natural as a heartbeat.

Why is that pure, concentrated thankfulness so rare? Or a better question—why does avoiding something bad evoke a gratitude so much readier and brighter than being blessed with something good?

I realize that's a bit of a blanket statement. Sometimes we really are flooded with gratitude for the wonderful blessings we've been given, but I can only speak for myself when I say that it doesn't happen often enough. I practice thankfulness regularly, but I don't always feel it. Fortunately, the latter isn't really a requirement; in actuality, it's more of a result.

We're human. Self-preservation is often our first priority, so naturally avoiding things that threaten us is going to flood us with relief and gratitude, and in those moments we must remember where our deliverance comes from. On the flip side of the human coin, we tend to think ourselves entitled to good things. Maybe that's why we don't always feel the flood of gratitude in the same way when blessings drop into our lives.

That is where practice comes in. Anyone who has walked a ways down the road with God knows that feelings are not much of an indication of anything. They're up and down, side to side, constantly under attack by Satan, hormones, even mental illness, and are pretty much the worst foundation to build a life of gratitude or Godliness on. They aren't reliable; they're selfish; I daresay feelings are even deceptive. But the good news is that feeling grateful is not a prerequisite for practicing gratitude and drawing closer to God through it.

Like faith, gratitude is an exercise. So practice it. Get up early, take your gratitude shake, and work out your thankfulness muscles, even if it doesn't come easily at first. Make lists, pray through them. Search for the blessings on the path before you. The more you practice being thankful for everything—good things gained and nightmares avoided—the readier your gratitude reflex will be. With enough practice, one day even the smallest, slightest blessing will give you that post-dream, praise the Lord! feeling.

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