Small Enough to Practice Gratitude
“Only with great difficulty does a shaft of light pierce the armor of self-righteousness.”
If you had told me five years ago that I would get to a place where I practiced gratitude, I would have laughed. I would have tossed my head back like Sarah, heavy with a heart of pain and cynicism, when God spoke His crazy promise to her. My heart has been old for much too long. It has seen long seasons of inexplicable barrenness both for me and people I love. For me, gratitude arrived as a miracle, and that is the only explanation I have.
We know that bracing feels wise and resting feels foolish. I thought of gratitude as worse than foolish; I saw it as a practice of denial, mental gymnastics designed to make me feel better for a little while. I would not risk looking like Pollyanna, and I didn’t believe I could afford to move my eyes from my fears to the good in my life. Now, I see that I cannot afford not to.
Recovery from my story and my responses to it has led me down a road with a community of people who have high esteem for intentional thankfulness. I have trembled much of the way, yet He’s kept me on the journey. I have grown a deep respect for people who can look full-faced at what is heartbreaking in life and also at that which is sheer, beautiful gift. Author Anne Lamott is one of the strongest champions of gratitude I know, and she suggests thankfulness restores us to innocence and awe. I feel safe listening to her voice, because I know she is no fool about reality nor about pain. For me, the experience of safety was necessary before He led me to gratitude. He knew my heart was old because I had gotten too big- too in-charge and on-edge. He knew I didn’t feel safe attuning to the good. He knew I would need people around me who had encountered much pain, but were also sane, even light. These are the people who have old hearts too, who have gotten as big as I have, and who remind me that the only big one is God.
As I got comfortable with being small, and as I let go of the grip on life that had made me so serious, small nods to gratitude began to show up in me. We lose when we let go- this is just true. Most of the time, circumstances seem to worsen, and our Sarah hearts scoff at the tiny trust we allowed. By sheer grace, the Spirit faithfully brought me to awareness of some real good around me, reminded me that I didn’t have to scoff like that. He kept returning to move my gaze from the heavy dark to the light. I began to write down on tiny scraps of paper when He would show me light. Now I have a collection of these scraps- and I think He finds them precious. They represent my tiny steps back to trust, all the while carried along by my Helper.
If you know me now, you know that I often toss my head back with a laugh of lightness and playfulness. This laugh is so different from the sharp laugh of my aged heart that once refused to take God at His word. It comes from a place in me that has learned that I must daily gather in the manna He brings (however not-enough it may seem). It has been enough to bring back a child’s joy in me. It will be enough to keep me in the light when darkness comes.
Meredith joined The Barnabas Center staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her Bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. Meredith, her husband Jon, and daughter Charlotte live in Fort Mill, SC.