Reviewed by Linda Sladkey | April 1, 2020
I quit my gratitude journal.
Every day, for four years I wrote down five things for which I was thankful—dew in the morning sun, porchlights, the smell of lilacs. Sometimes the entries appreciated hard things—a moment of loneliness, difficult conversations, long wait times. The idea was that if I were always looking for things to be thankful for, I would bubble over with gratitude. I wanted to be that thankful person, so I persisted. I disciplined myself to register five things, no repeats, every day.
On the very last page of my notebook, with just 15 lines to fill, a podcast turned my thinking on its side. The speaker noted, “There is a difference between thankfulness and recognition.” And that was it. For four years I had been keeping a recognition journal—mechanical entries disguised as gratitude. Just because I saw something and named it as good didn’t necessarily mean I was thankful for it.
In search of a new formula for thankfulness, I picked up Holly Whitcomb’s The Practice of Finding. The introduction begins with the words of Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath, who says, “When we are trapped in seeking, nothing is enough. Everything we have mocks us; we see only what is missing, and all that is already here seems pale and unsatisfying….The time for seeking is over; the time for finding has begun.”
Whitcomb succinctly unpacks the exercise of finding through practices such as wonder and vulnerability, through sorrow and the unexpected. She invites readers to find what they already have rather than reach for something more elusive. She issues a call to “counteract the message of scarcity and insufficiency” that surrounds us in order to discover the meaning of enough.
It turns out there is no “easy button” for gratitude, but Whitcomb provides practical insights—from her own life and from the reflections of wise theologians, poets, and thinkers. Journaling may not have worked for me, but Whitcomb points to a wide variety of spiritual practices and aspects to ponder that make space for fullness even in moments of suffering.
Her hope, she writes, is that as we live into the treasured and unforeseen moments unearthed by the practice of finding, “we discover that the gift we receive is more cherished than the one we’ve been seeking.”