How To Get Gratitude All Wrong This Thanksgiving


November, for all intents and purposes, is our national invitation to gratitude month. Schools promote, pastors sermonize it and commercials monetize it.

But I sit here wondering: are you able to engage it? Is all of that push for gratitude working any good inside of you?

From personal difficulty, painful loss, maybe political upsets, there are many people who are struggling to engage in gratitude. Can I let you in on a little secret? Back when that “write down your gratitude” stuff started up and was all the rage, I felt like it was a call to put a dress on a piece of sh…errrr, feces. My life was so hard in so many categories and trying to be thankful felt like kindergarten stuff. Please, I have better things to do than think about unicorns and rainbows. I am pretty sure I had that actually thought; I am certain I had that sarcastic tone.

Sometimes the best and most life-giving thing is to be wrong.

My wrongness about gratitude came to me in a season of life that felt hijacked by a 7 pounds of newborn flesh. Bleary-eyed exhausted and home all the time, I was uninspired and waning in the gray that is a February in Chicago. I distinctly remember waking one morning early (again) and whining to my husband. He assured me we would “find our new normal.” My heart sunk in the realization that we actually had to find our new normal. Caring for this human we created was, indeed, our new life.

You might think this new little life would bring joy even if work. Through no fault of her own, our daughter had been born on the backdrop of many years of difficult. We had almost lost our marriage, we lost our first home and jobs, we had broken down vehicles, I had to quit graduate school, we even buried our first son who was stillborn. And while she did bring joy, and our marriage was stable, there was sufficient income and a cute apartment, I struggled to live in an internal place of gratitude. And worse? I couldn’t understand why.

See, I thought gratitude was something that was supposed to make me gloss over the realities of struggle lying underneath.

Looking back, I believe part of me knew instinctively that I had grieving yet to do. I was years-wearied and it would take time to fill my heart again and gain greater perspective on so many back-to-back trials. I recall thinking that if I were happy about life maybe God wouldn’t answer my prayers. Strange, right? A “she doesn’t need anything from me if she is grateful” sort of messed up theology of God and his provision for us. I had convinced myself that gratitude was to be happy FOR these difficulties and deficiencies that still lingered within. I don’t do BS very well, so with a definition like this I couldn’t enter into gratitude.

Insert me being wrong.

I had read verses such as “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thess. 5:18) and was called toward that, but couldn’t get it deep inside. I had felt more negative than I wanted to be as a person, even if I hid it well from outsiders. While I desired to be more grateful, I didn’t want to be some positive happy-clappy gal who brushed off real-life so I could always “give thanks.” Something wasn’t healthy about that. Life was REAL, folks, and if you had a few days I would have told you all about it.

Then it happened. Out of desperation and fear of deeper depression I decided to write down some things I was grateful for each day. Then I began to look for them. Then I naturally noticed them. Something was changing in me and I began to learn something about the call to gratitude:

The call to live in gratitude is not a call to derail us from the hard work our soul needs to do, whether grieving, healing, restoring a relationship, or buoying hope.

The call to live in gratitude is ultimately a call to spiritual maturity, to live within the tensions of real pain and real goodness that opens us up to the real presence of a loving God.

It’s a call to live into the gray space that is
longing and contentment,
grief and joy,
loss and hope.
That gray space becomes a grace space, and gratitude saves us from ourselves.

The call to live in gratitude is a call to trust. To trust that God can hear our deepest prayers. To trust that God knows our needs intimately and has not forgotten us and our difficulty. It’s a call to trust that God actually loves us.

We can be grateful IN without being grateful FOR. And we have been given everything we need for this good inner work (2 Peter 1:3).

Right now I am living in this place of tension, this gray space.  I am moving this blog over to a new site with a more robust vision, full of writings and resources to move our souls closer to God. It’s been energizing joy going after this vision. But I thought it was going to be done already. It isn’t, and even when I launch it will probably be at 80% instead of the 98% that I want. I am hoping very soon you will be able to find me at Honestly, I am not thankful FOR this setback, but I am thankful IN it for so many things. A slow, picturesque fall. Being present to my quickly-growing kids. Time to savor being on the brink of launching something I have dreamed of for years and will develop for years to come.  My feelings of disappointment and gratefulness are both very real. It’s a tension and I don’t do it perfectly, I don’t even think there is a perfect. But I am living into this grace space. I can say I really am grateful as it moves me Godward in beauty and goodness.

So friends, this Thanksgiving let’s come together to the powerful, incarnate Table that holds the tension of brokenness and wholeness so tightly it splits us open into presence of God, and we can feast.

Sometimes is so very good to be wrong.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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