We all go through times in our journey which if given the choice, we might choose to avoid. It is at times like this when I tend to hear my Bubby’s voice reminding me that when you can see the good in a bad situation, then you know you are going to be ok. I have done this with Zoë’s cancer diagnosis, during the times my son has struggled (like last night), during my struggle with Liftline, etc. As I have made a list of the blessings in each situation, the way I see them, what I choose to believe about them shifts from an Eeyore attitude to an attitude of gratitude. The more I focus on what I have to be grateful for, the more I realize how much I have to be grateful for. It is as if gratefulness begets gratefulness begets gratefulness.
You know, it's almost impossible to be grateful for everything in our lives and to feel blue and depressed at the same time. Try it, and you'll see for yourself. You can't do both at the same time. There is always something to feel grateful for.
When I was in seminary, I read this book by Sabina Wurmbrand's called “The Pastor's Wife.” She told the story of what she and her husband Richard endured during his pastorate in Rumania. She wrote about how the Rumanians imprisoned she and her husband for believing in God and preaching his faith. Their young son had to be cared for by friends during the time they were imprisoned.
One day, as the women prisoners were marched along the road, from the factory where they performed forced labor, back to their bleak, comfortless dormitory, a friend of Sabina's surreptitiously plucked two raspberries growing beside the road, and carried them along in the palm of her hand. When they got back to the dormitory, she opened her hand, showed them to Sabina, and gave her one of them. They were so delighted with those two lonely, partially crushed little raspberries because they didn't have anything else.
I think of that sometimes when I feel like complaining. Two lonely, little raspberries. I have so much more in my life, then two lonely little raspberries. I have so much to be grateful for.
The world is an arena for gratitude. There is always so much around us for which to give thanks. It is like what Buddhist call “awareness”— merely being present to the richness of all things, to the stupendous wealth of being alive and being able to see, hear, feel, and taste things. If we were only truly aware, truly sensitive to everything, it would blow all our fuses in an instant. We couldn't bear the overwhelming number of gifts. God’s generosity and grace are greater then anything we can imagine. There is an Islamic teaching, which tells us when we recognize the ways God is blessing each of us; God is living inside our hearts.
Several years ago, an American Indian named William Least Heat Moon wrote a book called “Blue Highways.” Heat Moon had just lost his job as an English professor and didn't have anything better to do, so he got in his old van that he had named Ghost Dancing and drove all over the country, following the highways marked in blue on the map—the back roads, never the interstate highways. He wrote about the richness of what he encountered.
Even in the desert of West Texas, he found things to celebrate. One day he drove out there, just to look, listen, and learn what was there. Everybody said there was nothing out there, but he knew better. He made a list of the things he found there. There were thirty items on his list. A mockingbird. A mourning dove. Gray flies. A blue bumblebee. Black ants, orange ants, orange-and-black ants (what's been going on? he asked). An opossum skull. Some cactus. A jackrabbit (he didn't see it, but he could see where it had been gnawing on the cactus). Some mesquite plants. The earth, the sky, and the wind. Always the wind, he said. Some people said there was nothing out there!
Awareness: being present to the world around us. Feeling it, seeing it, listening to it, caring about it. Being grateful for it. It really can heal your spirit, can't it? It's something that we're just alive, and, regardless of who God has called us to be in our lives, we can enjoy everything and give thanks for it.
I am going to challenge each person who reads this to begin keeping a gratitude journal if you are not already doing so. Each day make a list of all those things that you have to be grateful for. Make a list of all those people in your life who have been inspirational and be grateful for their presence in your life. Not only will doing so keep our hearts focused on worshipping and praising God, but over time, we will have a history of all the ways that God has been working in our lives. My guess is that like William Least Heat Moon you will be amazed at how many things you will find and people you will remember that God has blessed you with in your life. Be grateful for what you have.
May we work each day at developing and maintaining an attitude of gratitude. May we be grateful for all God is doing in our lives each and every day. May this attitude of gratitude become like breathing for us. May it become something we don’t just do to heal and liberate ourselves when things are bad, but something we do in all circumstances. Take a minute and think about what you have to be grateful for.