Discipline of GratitudeGod, Gratitude , Health
It’s so easy to complain.
Several years ago, I sat in Phoenix for the month of January – away from the damp BC coast – an opportunity a medical leave afforded me to rest, read, and write. My husband and I soaked in the beauty of desert life and relished local culture and events. We shared a sabbatical, a luxury many could envy.
And yet I recall being aware of the nature that resides within, the part of me that is constantly threatening to turn my head away from the Gift, toward the self. Unseasonably cold temperatures distracted from the ever sun-filled, expansive blue skies. I would catch myself grumbling at the need to change clothes three or four times a day. The mornings were cool and required jackets, even mitts. One day, around noon, I sat on the deck in full sun, wearing a tank top and shorts, aware that I ought to be careful not to burn. A walk around the lake mid-afternoon was too chilly for shorts.
Evening demanded an ensemble much like early morning. First world problems, my children would chide.
One night my husband and I watched a few minutes of the comedian Ron James. One of his remarks was that our lives aren’t too difficult, they are too comfortable. The audience laughed at the irony of the statement but I wonder how many gave it any further thought. It seems that when my world is comfortable, I run the risk of dwelling on what is missing, turning away from what I have. Is it entitlement that surfaces?
During this season, a friend and I were having a conversation about growth and suffering and pain. Out of the blue she proclaimed that I had developed the spiritual discipline of gratitude. I felt taken aback and inquired why. She observed that I continually chose a posture of thankfulness, in spite of my physical pain and in the midst of multiple losses. While I thanked her for the kind words in that moment, I had serious reservations and have since drawn some insights.
One is that I am sickeningly aware of how ungrateful I often feel. Life is hard, to quote a grossly overused cliché. It’s rarely what you expect it to be and if you hold too tightly to your own idea of how life should look, disappointment prevails. I did not expect to be unable to work at age 47. Life will let us down. So, as one of my long-ago clients would say, ‘suck it up, buttercup’. But we don’t just absorb the disappointment into our psyche and have it disappear into nowhere. Like sponges, we suck up the despair, losses, feeling of being short-changed and eventually reach a saturation point where we start to drip. Another disappointment hits and becomes like giant hands twisting the sponge of us until every drop of inner moisture is squeezed out. And there we sit, crusty, brittle, inflexible, dried up.
Unless, by God’s grace, we opt for something different. Gratitude, I believe, is a spiritual discipline developed over time, honed in each individual moment when a choice is made between grumbling and thankfulness.
As my sons became intent on developing healthy lifestyles, complete with physical exercise and muscle-building activities, I would hear afresh from them how muscles grow—tiny tissues tear and rebuild, stronger than before. It gave me a picture of gratitude growing. The example of annoyance over having to change clothes is a tiny tissue indeed. However, it represents to me the subtle ways I must choose gratitude in all things, every day. It is a developed mindset that quickly catches the insidious infiltration of entitlement and discontent and then opens new options.
In my coaching profession, we call it reframing. What’s another perspective on this situation? Perhaps by shifting even one degree, it could look quite different. And that’s where it becomes a discipline—a willful act to turn from comfortable whining and land instead in a place of thankfulness.
This is not Pollyanna-ish. I am not fond of the “God is good” reply, complete with cheesy smile and gloss-over approach to adversity. No, I am advocating an authentic discipline that stares hard into the face of all things difficult and says—in spite of pain, in the midst of suffering, when loss burns to the soul—I give thanks.
Written by Shelaine Strom, FH Canada and Ending Poverty Together Lead