The Key to Gratitude -- An Open Letter to the Grumpy and Discontent (Me!)
I want to rest in the goodness of God, not the goodness of my circumstances.- Katrina Frye
A few weeks ago I was given a Giving Key. I had been told to look for it in the mail, and so I did, wondering what word I would find printed on its metal face. If I'm honest I let my mind wander here a bit, thinking maybe it'd be something flattering like STRENGTH, or BRAVE, or CREATIVE, or even PRETTY AND NICE LIKE A UNICORN. Okay that's six words. These are the things I hoped people perceive me as, and soon I'd have a necklace to reinforce my "identity".
Eventually it came and I read the word-- GRATEFUL. It stung a little bit. It had none of the lofty vibrance of the words I had envisioned for myself. And mostly it stung because if there's one thing I know about myself, it's that I'm not a grateful human.
You can ask my husband. I tend to be a whiner, a complainer, the first one of us who crumbles in the face of adversity. I would have made a great Israelite, and probably would have died in the desert. I knew right away that this wasn't a word that described me, but a word being prescribed to me. And I wasn't wrong. She wrote:
"I'm giving you this key that's been my shelter these past few months. I got it right before I quit my job. I didn't know what job was next. I didn't know how we were going to pay rent. I didn't know how to live without the title and status I thought I had at that job. So I decided no matter what, I was going to stay GRATEFUL. I hand this over to you to hold on to tightly when everything continues to shift. Stay planted in gratitude, grow in gratefulness. AND THEN PASS IT ON. Believe me there will be a time when you have the strength to pay it forward. Like me, since today I started my new job."
It's hard to be grateful. I associate gratefulness with humility and meekness. As if being grateful means just taking what you're given with a smile and no fight. When things feel like they're crumbling I want to rebel, not accept. I want to show my circumstances who's boss and make things go my way.
Not being grateful reveals who we believe is ultimately in control. We say with our lips "Your will be done", and with our lives and hearts we say "After I've exhausted all my power, strength and other options." Our culture tells us to be fighters, to not boldly accept or rest in gratitude.
Have you ever noticed how exhausting it is to not be grateful? Being grateful doesn't mean not standing strong or fighting for what's right. It means fighting for His way in your life, not your way.
As Ann Voskamp so eloquently puts it “Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”
We want food, we don't want manna. We want a home, we don't want to work for it. We want to be loved, we don't want to give love. We want attention and never want to give it. We can never be satisfied with what we have until we're truly grateful for what is there.
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever. - Psalm 106:1
We can start being grateful when we recognize Jesus is our portion forever. I'm not a grateful person, but I'm starting to take the steps, I'm planting myself in gratitude's soil.
When Chris and I got engaged, I remember mouthing thanks to God silently in my car driving to and from work. It was thanksgiving that stemmed from disbelief that He was granting me Chris as my husband. The tears would well and I would find myself just murmuring "thank you, thank you, thank you..." over and over and over again.
Sometimes the gifts of God are obviously, breathtakingly beautiful.
Last year I learned about another face of gratitude while living and working on the road. I never experienced so wild an identity crisis as I did that year. Everything was shifting, everyone felt foreign, even my own thoughts felt out of place. It was disorienting, exhausting and sometimes just depressing.
I remember laying in my darkened bunk on the bus just saying "I don't know how to thank you for this yet, but I am trusting that you are good." It was long year and a half. But I'm finally starting to see the fruit of it, the depths of God's goodness that has followed me places I didn't think it could go.
But I'm still learning. Learning not to freak out when I'm overwhelmed, to not fight for my way like a toddler. I'm learning to find joy and gratitude outside my circumstances, until the tears wobble down my cheeks and I close my eyes and just repeat "thank you, thank you, thank you...."