I wanna talk about gratitude.
I’ve been very grateful lately. I have so many things to be grateful for. Here are just a few of them:
- I’m grateful I know what I want to do with my life (that’s kind of new for me).
- I’m grateful for the band Needtobreathe having just released cut tracks from their album Hardlove. So good.
- I’m grateful for my mom calling me out for letting fear control me.
- I’m grateful for counseling.
- I’m grateful for dairy free cheese that actually tastes alright.
- I’m grateful for my smartphone. How my life has improved since I got this baby less than a year ago.
- I’m grateful for having a potential coffee date with a girl I hope to become friends with.
- I’m grateful for the hope I’ve been feeling, hope that has surpassed my circumstances and my understanding.
- I’m grateful for my ‘Cup of Gratitude’ mug – just about the best mug ever.
Go on. Take a nice long swig of that gratitude.
And while it’s true some of this gratitude has been in response to good things that have happened, a lot of it has just been a shift in my attitude towards the boring, mundane, or even negative things in my life.
A few examples:
- I’m incredibly grateful for my breakup with my ex-boyfriend, even though in the weeks leading up to it I was pretty convinced I wouldn’t be able to survive letting go of the relationship I had planned my whole life around. I learned God’s faithfulness and patience in the most concrete way.
- I’m grateful for my trip to Virginia even though it was compromised by the terrifying experience of a friend of a friend attempting suicide while we were at a beach house in the Outer Banks. I learned new depths of my compassion and empathy, and that when I feel most alone, that’s when God is closest to me.
- I’m grateful for my body even though it is weak, messy, and intolerant to dairy along with a random assortment of other foods. (I never wanted to be that person who ‘doesn’t eat X’, but here we are.) My body, with all of its limitations, is the one body I get in this life, and it has taken me everywhere I’ve ever been and carried every thought and feeling I’ve ever experienced.
Here’s the thing. Gratitude is an act of humility. It’s an act of acknowledging that what we have is a gift we weren’t entitled to. Being grateful even for suffering or difficult circumstances is the ultimate act of humility because we bend our self-serving, pleasure-seeking will and say, “Though I know not how, I believe this is for my good.”
Last year, I went to Rochester, MN for the Annual Thornton Wilder Short Play Festival put on by Words Players, and I saw Thornton Wilder’s play Pullman Car Hiawatha for the first time.
Let me tell you, I was shook.
There’s a scene in the play where a woman who everyone perceives to be insane is approached by a pair of archangels, and the one-sided conversation she has with them moved me so deeply, I was sobbing in the back of the theater space.
Photo credit Joel Kuhlmann.
She says, “What possible use can there be in my simply waiting? — Well, I’m grateful for anything. I’m grateful for being so much better than I was. The old story, the terrible story, doesn’t haunt me as it used to. A great load seems to have been taken off my mind. But no one understands me anymore. At least I understand myself perfectly. But no one else understands a thing I say. So I must wait? Well, you know best. I’ll do whatever is best.”
This monologue had a profound effect on me and challenged me in my own gratitude – or lack thereof. Particularly because the woman is told she must continue to wait. I was, and still am, at a place in my life where everything feels like a waiting game, and there’s no guarantee when or how the waiting will pay off. Here was a woman in absolute anguish, completely alone, misunderstood, unable to express herself properly. A woman who has almost nothing. Because she has so little, she’s able to receive everything with open arms – essentially a personification of the paradox that the less we have, the greater capacity we have for gratitude. (I have a lot more thoughts about Pullman Car Hiawatha, but I’ll share them at another time.)
Gratitude changes everything. It takes us outside of ourselves, changing the dialogue from “look at everything I have” to “look at everything that has been given to me.” Even when we’ve worked hard for something, it is still possible to view that accomplishment as a gift. I worked very hard from December 2016 to May of this year to write and publish my book Good You Were Here, but I don’t really feel like it was something I went out and made for myself. It has been a gift, to the people who have bought it and read it, of course, but especially to me. I didn’t know I needed it, but I did.
Even when something is awful (the death of a loved one, physical/emotional/mental suffering, unfair circumstances, etc.), it is still possible to view that circumstance with humility, trying to zoom out and see things from the perspective of eternity. My parish priest had a brother who was killed serving in the military, and he shared a story about how a woman approached him at the funeral and told him, “God is going to use your brother’s death for a great good.” He said he wanted to hit her. But over time, he saw she was right. Over time, he caught glimpses of the big picture God was painting and received even the unbearable loss of his brother as a gift.
I admit I have a long way to go in the gratitude department. But lately, I’ve been having more days where I wake up or sit down to pray, and my first thought is, “I’m so grateful just to be alive.” I know that’s a gift. I know to wake up to a day that will probably be a lot like a previous day, full of uncertainty and heartache and yet more waiting to figure out where my life is going, and be grateful, is a gift God gives me new every morning. And if I can lean into that, even when I don’t feel it, even when I have to just close my eyes and shift my perspective outwards to view my nothingness, my littleness, as something given to me for my good, I’m in a perfect position to receive whatever good God has in store for me next. I’m confident of that.
Here’s to all we have to be grateful for. Even when we have so little, there is so much.