Archetypes often put mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law in opposition. Sometimes, archetypes are true; other times, silly. Count me blessed among women: I honor and admire my mother-in-love. I delight in spending time with her, listening to her stories and learning from her wisdom. She is a wonderful follower of Jesus, a strong leader, a servant of God and a helper of others.
This kind and generous lady guided our congregation in a “Year of Gratitude.” Weekly, she wrote for our common newsletter and spoke in our worship about the art of gratitude. She lifted practical ideas, inspiration, Scripture and quotes. She seemed to marvel at how many ways and opportunities there are to live gratefully.
While some might see such an attitude as a burden, or fake, or false piety, I watched and experienced that gratitude can and will transform us. As a spiritual discipline, it is life-shaping and heart-changing. David Steindl-Rast makes clear: “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
I do not suggest that pain and suffering should be glossed over — certainly not! My writings convey that I know the weight of great grief … and its graces. When gratitude comes to play in a real-life way, it helps us to see goodness and grace in the face of challenge.
For instance, heartbreak: My heart broke into a million shards. As such, I had the opportunity for self-examination. I took the time to clear out the dust and the dangerous, shattered stuff. I honored them and put them together into a beautiful mosaic. Now, I have room in my heart for more love.
Or consider when one’s world seems to fall apart or turn upside down. Maybe, in due course, we can see that the experience of change brought something greater, or new growth.
As it has always been, people persecute, undermine and betray others. It is a painful lesson for young people to encounter on the playground or in social media. But betrayal goes on throughout life in varying degrees. Perhaps betrayal brings us to find even better people to befriend — soul friends, even.
Both my spouse and I have experienced changes in careers. Those changes were devastating to both of us in different ways and to different degrees. In certain respects, we both actively chose those changed pathways. In so doing, we have found a new path for a new time. Maybe, for another person, this is the way to find one’s most fulfilling path.
Sometimes, folks bemoan “losing everything” until we meet someone who truly has. Job knew what it is to lose family, home, position, health, economic stability and social standing. Losing makes space for gaining. I do not oversimplify what it was for Job to see his children and spouse gone. On the other side of loss and life transition, there can be grace and, indeed, gratitude.
Gandhi once said: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” Good health, vital strength is an immeasurable resource. That is, until one begins to lose health and vitality. Then, one has the opportunity to slow down, to become aware of good health and the importance of nutrition, exercise and rest. Sickness slows us down for a bit so that we can know healing and remember wholeness.
Lastly, consider gratitude over your mistakes. Dear Reader, I have made many errors in my life, and I will surely make many more. But my mistakes help me to learn, to emerge from difficulty and to be better in my own being and in my interactions with others.
November should not be the only time of year for Gratitude. Every day is an opportunity to live out gratitude and to encounter greater joy. How will you attend to gratitude?