(Originally posted 3/20/2017)
For SO MANY YEARS, my life was out of control, and my brokenness held a death grip on the teeniest desire I may have had to change. During that time, if anyone would have told me to be grateful, I likely would have side-eyed them while restraining myself from doing them great bodily harm! (Don’t laugh! I still have my green belt in karate from thirty years ago that never expires! Yeah, that’s right, I can be dangerous!) So anyway, in their stunned state, while I had their attention, I would have pulled out my handy “gratitude – NOT” list and spewed all my anger and bitterness right at them.
- Thanks, mom, for all the abuse. That was fun.
- Thanks, psycho-neighbor kid, for introducing me to perversion when I was too small and afraid to run away from you. Oh yeah, and for breaking my nose with a 2×4 (not kidding).
- Thanks, ex-husband, for your “lying, cheating, cold dead-beating, two-timing, double-dealing, mean mistreating, (un)loving heart”. What a knight in shining armor you turned out to be!
- Thank you, world, for gleefully providing all my trivial wants, empty longings, and self-centered demands.
- Oh yeah, and thank you, God, for totally ignoring all the above.
I was bitter and hateful all those years, entrenched in such a deep sense of emptiness and hopelessness that I felt the only relief from the pain was to end my life, and I made a failed attempt at that when I was twenty-three (Okay, I’ll thank you now for that, Lord). Two years later, when I married my current husband, Tom, I became a Christian. But, for years, it was in name only, and nothing really changed. Like “putting lipstick on a pig,” as they say.
Though that was the beginning of my faith journey, it took years of healing for me to warm up to this scripture verse that is most critical for a life to be filled with joy and passion and purpose: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”.
It has only been in the past twenty years or so that I have been able to truly grasp and claim for myself the meaning and depth of gratitude in two significant areas of my life that kept me trapped: the painful experiences of my past and my sense of entitlement. I was always striving for “things”, successes, whatever it took to numb the pain. Constant shame battled with my pretense of being emotionally stable and spiritually healthy, “Look at me, people! Aren’t you jealous? You are, and you know it!”
I know gratitude for the pain as well as the joys in life seems like a paradox – it makes no sense at all, right? Believe me, I get it. The pain inflicted by others left me empty of purpose and hope. I had no concern for anything or anyone beyond myself. But gratitude loosened my white-knuckled grip on all that hurt and my own sins as well, which was actually my biggest hurdle. I suppose that’s why it got stuck at the end of the line while screaming for my attention.
The beginning of my transformation was like the forest and trees analogy: I had to step away and look back to realize how God was with me all along, that he did love me, and had a plan to use my pain in service to others. My gift was to share my story. My purpose was and still is, to walk alongside those God puts in my life that are also broken and lost. I owe a debt I cannot pay to a God who will never send bill collectors to my door – not ever!
My life has never been richer. I have never been happier. Beginning with the discovery that anything the world has to offer could never fill the void or heal my wounds. As Brennan Manning tells us:
So is my life pain and heartache free because I shop the sale racks now? No…but…now I know how to access God’s love which resides within my very being; I know I can hope and trust in him to overcome anything life throws my way, even if I may not have the slightest idea what good will come of those struggles.
Sooooo, how do you replace discontent with gratitude? Is gratitude a simple act of the will?
It’s important to first realize what we’re up against. I believe the biggest obstacle to gratitude and contentment is our Western culture’s sense of scarcity in all areas of life. We need more gadgets, a bigger house, a better car, a more important job to be happy.
We’re always comparing – because someone else has more and they look happier. The Scarcity Gremlin eats up sufficiency for a midnight snack. So, each day begins with a sense of “not enough” of___________ (fill in the blank) and then a striving to get it. Whatever “it” is.
How can you be content, you ask, when your new neighbor, who just moved into a house twice the size of yours, is younger, prettier, has a career you envy, and a pool to die for? And if all that wasn’t bad enough, she speaks eight languages – you only speak four. She has traveled to fifty-two countries – you have only made it to thirty-eight. She’s been married six times – you’ve only been married once! Okay…ENOUGH! It’s endless and exacerbating. And, guess what? Even the wealthy we envy are suffering, especially the kids who are paying the price.
Our sense of scarcity, our need to one-up others, distorts and devalues all the blessings and gifts we have been given. We are so hyperfocused on what we don’t have we fail to appreciate or show gratitude for what we do have. Gratitude seems to be a lost virtue.
According to a CNN article, “Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology, has been studying the lives of privileged children for 25 years. Her research has shown that drug and alcohol use among affluent teens is higher than among kids of the same age group in inner cities. Further, children growing up in wealthier households are more likely to be suffering from anxiety and depression compared with the national average, according to the research.”
David G. Myers, the author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, wrote in an American Psychologist article. “Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness, and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology. Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.”
You know you want to change because there is something deep within your heart that has been relentlessly pursuing you for a very long time. Annoyingly reminding you how discontented and unfulfilled you are with your life and with all your “stuff”. You need to trust that God is just waiting for the slightest motion toward him. That mustard seed step of faith (Matthew 17:20). A faith that begins with patience and hope, which are two critical elements of a healing heart:
- Gratitude requires a great deal of patience and trust in God’s timing and ultimate plan for our lives.
- Hope is not tangible; it is in things unseen: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, considered the world’s leading expert on gratitude, says, “Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness.” When we turn our focus from ourselves to God, we are the ones who benefit. “The self,” in the words of Emmons, “is a very poor place to find happiness or meaning in life.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (not Amazon prime), and cometh down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17)
Now then, time for more true confessions. Until six weeks ago, I felt pretty altruistic and benevolent toward “the least of these”. After all, over the years, I have given away perfectly good: designer clothes, furniture, household items, a kidney, canned goods, and my precious time and energy. I thought I knew what poverty and hopelessness were all about. I was wrong.
My husband and I went to Rwanda in Central Africa to visit our son (who’s in the military), daughter-in-law, and two of our grandkids. It has been one of my most profound and overwhelming experiences! Here, hunger has stared down my apathy. I have seen the memorials that display the graphic reality of the genocide in 1994: A mass slaughter of almost a million men, women, and children in just one hundred days, by their own neighbors, while the world stood by and watched. I have talked to survivors and been surrounded by hungry and shoeless children. I can’t even describe how it has torn at my heart.
When I think of the contrast between Rwanda and America: what we have and they don’t, what they appreciate and we don’t, I can’t help but think about the virtue of gratitude. When we left there, I prayed that I would be a different person when I returned home. That I wouldn’t forget. I prayed that contentment would look much different. That I would be mindful of the difference between need and want, and I would not be so wasteful or take anything for granted again. Since then, I have been a mix of getting it right and getting it terribly wrong. But I keep trying.
Just try to imagine the following contrasts. I hope these will give you a sense of how this experience has impacted me:
3 thoughts on “Thanks – Just Kidding!”
You are an amazing beautiful woman my friend!
And you as well!