Dumb Gratitude

:Provo courthouse garden, Spring 2008

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Do you struggle with gratitude?

I sure do.

I have haaated the topic. I have NOT wanted to have an attitude of gratitude. Even in elementary school I was a seven year old gratitude curmudgeon.

You know the drill in elementary school. The teacher has you make a list. Every child is grateful for their mom, dad, the rest of the family, being born in a free country like America.

And that’s where my seven year old self cynically coughed up toad-thoughts.  I thought I couldn’t’ tell my teacher and class mates. : I wasn’t born in America.  I was born in The Netherlands. Holland was home for me. And Nederland (Holland) was a free country too! Did any one in my class understand my homesickness and my frustration?

As the oldest child of two wonderful parents (Dutch and Dutch-Indonesian) who both survived World War II in captivity, and then felt they should immigrate for more opportunities, I had been uprooted. We had already lived in The Netherlands, Iran, The Netherlands again, and now Provo, Utah.

We tell each other to “suck it up” when it comes to feelings sometimes, don’t we? That day, at age seven, I “sucked up” the feelings of hating the gratitude topic and I “sucked up” the hurt behind the gratitude topic. I wanted to be able to write, “I am grateful for dinner at my Beppe and Pake’s (grandparents) house. I am grateful for the friends I have known for as long as I could remember.” But I couldn’t do that, yet. I didn’t have close friends again for years.

Eventually my life and adjustments got easier, yet my most profound first experiences of gratitude came with friends in 12 step programs. I think I was still hiding for years until my teen sobriety. My walls, THE walls were up way high when it came to Dumb Gratitude. Gratitude is, of course, a feeling, and I sensed that if I were to revisit the topic of gratitude, I would have to revisit all of those sucked-up feelings.

So particularly in 12 step programs, in the special mix of unconditional love such fellowships offer, the iced-over wall began to melt and come down.

Gratitude experience number one: I was 17 and had two years of recovery, but didn’t feel very grateful. I was in my first year of college and confused. I was living in a halfway house, because I hadn’t figured out a different way to live away from home, attend college, and NOT be in a party-atmosphere dorm. A newly sober room mate and I decided to each do a  step four and five inventory. If you don’t know what these steps mean… know it can include writing your life story, from as honest a perspective as possible.

My friend Suzie kept crying, then she would laugh, then she would cry, then she would laugh. This went on in between the sound of our pens scratching away on paper.  Finally I said, “What?”

“I’m just so grateful,” she said.

“But why are you laughing and crying?”

“I just can’t believe that I survived it all, that I’m okay.”

“Oh.” I told her thank you and realized I had a long way to go. I had two years recovery, the opportunity to go to college, some deep family pain however, and I had no gratitude.

I started to share more with others, so gratitude could come. The sharing turned out to be so important. This was the year my father had a severe car accident, and then surgery which caused him to be paraplegic for ten months, followed by years of neurological problems/almost paraplegia.

I had my first hints of gratitude that I could feel so deeply for my fahter, mother, my sister and myself, and not suck-it-up, not escape, just seek to continue to relate to God. To ask the tough questions, “Why do horrible things happen to good people.”

To not get the answer. To feel, sorrow, love, support. To have my first lesson with Gratitude Number 2 (see tomorrow’s post).

Consider this great blog post, I found,  as you meditate today:

(first a little miracle story about the Provo, Utah photo.  Beautiful statue, and even Dutch tulips. It just popped right onto this post with no effort, from my Zemanta assist. I love it when God seems to say, “Hey, take it easy. This, this is easy.”)

Opening prayer: Father, I don’t understand how praising You can possibly help me, especially as badly as I’m feeling today. Open my heart to understand Your power and plan, I pray.

It’s backwards, I tell you!

It really is. The Transformed Life really does look upside down and backwards to us sometimes. Especially when trouble hits. Ordinary Life (see our earlier lesson for details) says we should cry and moan and blame God when trouble hits. “How could a good God ALLOW this?”

Any fool can carry on like that. Most of them do. That’s Ordinary Life. You can see hundreds of examples of it every day, at home, at work and on the television.

Christians living the Transformed Life do it differently, according to the Scripture above: “Rejoice always… in everything give thanks…”

Isn’t that like leaning into a swinging fist?

Not at all. In fact, the crying and complaining that we do in Ordinary Life only makes it worse. It doesn’t help us, and the people around us don’t appreciate it either.

As we shall see, praising God during our problems has three miraculous effects:

Let’s start in Psalm 100, verses 1-5:

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. 3 Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. (Emphasis added.)

Please note that God’s presence has a gate. You can enter freely with thanksgiving and you can enter His courts with praise.


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