This morning I awoke thinking about writing this gratitude post. I also woke up disgruntled. Not the best combination: Disgruntled Writer Speaks Out About Gratitude.
As I was driving to my writing location – I confessed my disgruntledness. “I don’t feel so grateful,” I mumbled (my confessions are often mumbled). I kept going. “I am disgruntled because of __________ (list my circumstances here).” I listened to myself. The list of disappointments was real enough and chronic enough to be legitimate, I noted. But were they enough to color my whole day?
“Yes,” I thought, “I could make a day out of these. I have before.” In fact, I can take a little disappointment and work it into a bigger mood, and then massage the mood into a whole attitude. With a little effort, I can shape a bad attitude into an enduring character trait. “Yes,” I thought, “I am definitely that talented.”
Then I thought about all the choices required to reshape a disappointing event to a disgruntled character. First, there is the choice to avoid a productive but vulnerable emotion like “sad” and choose a less productive but more defensive emotion like a “sulky mood.” Second, there is the choice to expand the “sulk” into a more general reaction to life – a “sour attitude.” Then as minutes passed, I would have to feed the sourness to keep it with the right consistency. That’s a lot of choices. And on and on. You get the idea – the production of a “character trait” – would require hundreds if not thousands of choices.
I realized that I am a choice machine. I am continually making choices – serious, consequential choices. And then, right there in the car, something unexpected happened. I rejoiced. Right there in the middle of a sulk.
I rejoiced because I suddenly saw the gift. A light bulb came on – the ability to choose is a gift. Why, if I have the ability to make all those choices to go from bad to worse, then I am obviously in control of something. I am not in control of most circumstances; they are continually changing. The drama of family and life ebbs and flows. But within the flux, there is a hidden constant. There is a foundation given to me that is stable. And on the human side of things, it is the most massive constant there is. That constant is the ability to choose how I will respond to my circumstances.
Call it “Free Will” or “Human Freedom” – but the ability to choose is God’s crowning endowment to human beings. We are granted the dangerous but honoring privilege of participation with our own stories.
When I saw this gift, I realized that I didn’t have to stay disgruntled. It may take a while, perhaps a whole series of choices – but I could move away from disgruntledness. Even without changing my circumstances or pretending they weren’t real, I had options. I could choose to be “sad” or to “grieve.” I could be “thoughtful about the dilemmas of life” or “prayerful in the face of them.” I could choose a dozen different directions that are more life-giving than “sulky.” I saw the immense value of the gift of choice – not just for this situation but also for my total life situation. In times of disappointment, in times of blessings – I am allowed to choose who I will be.
Sitting there rejoicing was a very serious moment for me. On the one hand, I felt an awesome sense of responsibility – I saw that I have been granted a whole life to live. And on the other hand, I experienced an immense sense of freedom – I saw that I have been granted a whole life to live.
Thank you, God, for the gift of my free will.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.