By Gillian Bethel
I love watching video footage taken by a drone! At first, the camera gives me a close-up of someone on the ground. Then suddenly it lifts off, and the person rapidly shrinks in an expanding picture. As the drone gains height, the figure becomes a dot in a huge panorama. Yet I’ve seen this person in detail too, so I know who they are and what they’re doing. Have you ever tried viewing your life like that—adding the big picture to the details?
Taking a drone view is especially helpful when we’re struggling with our current situation. Why? Because it can give us reasons to be grateful in spite of our problems. Gratitude is a game-changer! Research has shown it’s a key to mental resilience and better physical health because it counteracts stress.
Psychologist Robert Emmons, who spent ten years researching gratitude, tells us how to develop it:
“Gratitude can help us cope with hard times.... But it is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy.... But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives.”
The point here is that while feelings fluctuate, attitude can be a decision. We can choose our thoughts and therefore maintain gratitude and resilience long-term, especially with God’s help. This is where launching a mental drone is useful. There are several ways to take a drone view of our situation which can help us choose to be grateful.
In the Bible, Israel’s King David illustrates one way as he takes a bird’s-eye view of his whole life. Notice that he’s not addressing the reader; he’s telling himself to remember all the good things he’s receiving from God:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Ps. 103:2-4.
If we do this kind of review, we’ll often find we’re taking a lot of blessings for granted. And we can also be grateful that worse things could have happened, but didn’t. We don’t always realize what we’ve been kept from experiencing.
An old story illustrates another kind of drone view.
There was once in China a very bitter woman who approached a wise man. The woman was filled with resentment and angry questions. “Why has life been so cruel to me?” she asked. “Why must I suffer so? How can I go on living?”
The wise man did not answer the bitter woman’s questions. Instead, he told her, “Enter a house where no suffering has taken place, and ask them your questions.”
Three days later the woman returned. Her face now radiated a peaceful calm.
“Tell me,” said the wise man, “what did you find? And who answered your questions?”
She said, “For three days I inquired from house to house throughout the city. I could find no house without suffering. Instead, I found I have been most blessed in life.”
And if we look around, we’ll find the same.
Even if our lot in life still seems worse than that of others, we can share some heartfelt sympathy and encouragement with people who are suffering. It’s amazing how giving encouragement encourages us too! But what encouragement can we share when things are really bad?
There’s also a third kind of drone view. King David’s psalm (quoted above) shows us that we’ll see a cheerful picture of our lives when we take God into account. But why is it cheerful when God doesn’t always “heal our diseases” or “satisfy everyone’s mouths with good things”? It’s because of the greater things God is doing for us all.
The big picture in the Bible is that humans have succumbed to a disease called self-centeredness. Its symptoms are lack of peace and dysfunctional relationships with others and God. We easily disobey God’s law of self-giving kindness, and that eventually results in eternal death. This is the “disease” God most wants to heal.
God has made unimaginable sacrifices to offer us the deep healing we need. Amazingly, He can turn everything that happens to us, good or bad, to our advantage for this healing if we’ll work with Him. The Bible also reveals that God has already provided for a wonderful eternal future of truly “good things” for anyone who wants it, no matter what their past is.
Once we understand what God is offering us, we’ll have encouragement to share. If we look at our difficulties in the perspective of eternity, we can all find comfort and hope if we accept God’s present help and future plans for us.
The apostle Paul went through enormous hardships (mob violence, injuries, shipwreck, years of imprisonment, and more) while sharing this good news with a hostile first-century world. Yet he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Rom. 8:18.
The present may seem unpredictable in spite of God’s help. But God’s future for us is something rock-solid that we can constantly be grateful for and look forward to!
And there’s a further step we can take that helps with resilience. A 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that saying a personal thank-you was even more satisfying and effective for wellbeing than just passively being grateful. That’s because it acknowledges someone’s kindness to us.
Recognizing kindness creates more resilience! The more we express appreciation to others and to God, the more we realize we’re being supported and cared for during our challenges. That sweetens the bitter pill immensely. Then we can look for ways to be kind to others and lighten their burdens. This will create a beautiful feedback loop and cheer us too.
So when we’re struggling, let’s launch a mental drone. If we let our thoughts rise high enough and look far enough, the present will be more tolerable, and we’ll always have reasons to be grateful. We may even be able to say with the apostle Paul,
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:17, 18.
He took a drone view too!
Robert Emmons, “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times,” Greater Good Magazine, greatergood.berkely.edu, May 13, 2013.
“Feeling Thanks and Saying Thanks: A Randomized Controlled Trial Examining If and How Socially Oriented Gratitude Journals Work,” Brenda O’Connell et al, Journal of Clinical Psychology 73 (10), 1280–1300, mural.maynoothuniversity.ie.
Gillian Bethel taught college Bible classes for many years. She is passionate about making Christianity practical for daily challenges.