Stop talking about gratitude

Yes, that’s what I said. Stop talking about gratitude. It seems, sometimes, that gratitude is the new best thing and that all of us are supposed to make long lists of the multitude of things we are grateful for.

Fresh coffee

Hot showers

Homemade whatever

The joys of family life

Our fabulous church

And it is quite true that we too easily forget to be mindful and grateful.

But (you knew that “but” was coming) my patience runs short with folks who insist on turning everything into a blessing.

Squirrels emptying out the bird feeder in 3 minutes flat. How amusing to watch.

Precious little feet tracking mud into the house.

The power is out for the third day and we are having wonderful family bonding time in front of the fireplace.

Some days my list would be more along the lines of:

More #*@ snow. But eventually it stops.Right.  Please stop. Please.

I remember life before this head cold that won’t leave.

I’m grateful this day is over.

I’m glad they finally left.

It could, I suppose, be worse, maybe.

When I worked as an ER vet, I was known to say, “Every silver lining has a cloud.”  To borrow Anne Lamont’s phrase, I am a crabby optimist. * However, usually I see the glass as half full. Really I do.

But I also acknowledge that some days the glass is empty. Some days the glass gets knocked over and spills onto your lap… on your best pair of pants… when you can’t get home to change.

I don’t feel compelled to turn all of life’s events into some sort of blessing or something to be grateful for. It’s just a question of honesty for me. It seems better to just name it and claim it. For me and my family it is better if I just say, “ I’ve had a bad day and I’m in a bad mood and I’m sorry you have to live in the same house with me right now. I’ll be better tomorrow, perhaps (but don’t count on it) even later today.”

I think it’s all right to sing the blues. The Biblical term for that is lament.

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137)

The Psalms are full of lament. And you know, Moses laments. David laments. Job laments. Jesus laments.

Lament is part of being human.

I don’t know about you, but for me it is not a good idea to deny my emotions for too long. I don’t pretend well for very long. I can get out of the store without yelling at the clerk. But I can’t pretend to myself that I’m not angry. I rarely act out my anger but I do need to recognize it and acknowledge it. Then I am able to let my anger go.

If we are persistently sad or angry, something isn’t right and we need to be attentive to that. We need to talk with someone- wise friend, therapist, pastor. Equally, it seems to me, constantly pretending that bad things don’t happen isn’t healthy either.

Life is both horrible and wonderful. Sometimes simultaneously. And all of life, crummy and great, sad and happy, horrible and wonderful, all of it belongs to God.

I’d like to know, what do you think?

* from the very fine and highly recommended book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

18 thoughts on “Stop talking about gratitude

  1. I have tried to leave comments 3 times now and each time I erased it because my thoughts were not fully developed enough…there is something here, something I have been trying to identify for the last several weeks. If I get a handle on my thoughts perhaps I’ll post… anyways, I strongly suspect you are on to something bigger here, bigger than the idea of just gratefulness.

    1. Kris, Less than fully developed thoughts are welcome here 🙂 Thank you for reading and thinking about what you have read. and by the way I enjoyed reading your blog.

  2. Great post. I think St. Francis would agree. After all he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
    Talk is cheap. Being and acting grateful do more to advance the gospel than talking about it. Have a great weekend my friend.

    1. Being and doing are important as is being honest in our being and doing. Thanks, as always, for your careful reading and thoughtful comments.

  3. I found this to be a refreshing perspective. Just like I am filled with joy, I do not always appear to be joyful, I am filled with gratitutde and gratefulness, but I don’t always display it. Thanks for being real!

  4. Well, you really do have a point. I have to force myself to see those ‘little things’ in life. And that’s why forced gratitude (that sounds terrible) works for me.

    But then there is a time to weep . If we do not weep then God doesnt have the chance to come in and refresh us anew.

  5. Being grateful in all things doesn’t mean never lamenting. It also doesn’t mean never being sad or angry or bored or irritable. In fact, true gratitude comes when you see God’s hand in the midst of these times. In my own life these very dark moments turn to holy ground when I can see God and not only be thankful in the midst of them, but for them. To think that being thankful in all things, as we are instructed to do in Scripture, somehow means that we must deny the raw emotion of reality and be dishonest about the ugliness of life is to actually miss the point and beauty of gratitude all together. Yes, I’m thankful for ladybugs and rose petals but I’m especially thankful for the holy work that has been down at the side of my loved one’s hospital bed and in the shadows of the memory care unit where my Alzheimer’s ravaged father lives. I am thankful for anything that draws me closer to God and molds me more into his likeness whether it is a sunset or the wretchedness of disease. This I can say with all honesty, but it was a journey getting there and I continue on the journey. Thanks for the honesty in your post. Gratitude is a subject worth visiting again and again!

  6. Acknowledgement is a huge part of healing, of growing. We need to acknowledge what is true about how we feel and where we are as much as we need others to acknowledge it. “Mourn with those who mourn.”

    Your post is a valid cry for authenticity, even for permission to be real. I don’t think the practice of cultivating a heart of gratitude includes ignoring the truth of real pain and loss. Stephani put it well. I’m glad you wrote this.

  7. The title of your blog caught my eye – such courage to type those words! But I so agree with your thoughts and insights. Yes, it’s good to be thankful in all circumstances, but it’s really impossible to live there 24/7 (while on this earth.) I meet with a young woman who is absolutely afraid to touch lamented feelings. She’s suffered from depression before, so I believe she’s afraid once she dips her toe in the water, she’ll fall in and drown.
    In reading your thoughts I couldn’t help but think of Rick Warren’s take on this: “Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.”
    Thank you, Nancy, for your honesty and acknowledging the hard stuff of this life.

  8. I stumbled over here and I definitely see what you mean about the difference in real gratitude and trying to make everything rosy. I wrote about this today actually: Do You Suffer Well? When we lack emotional honesty for all our emotions, we only end up hurting ourselves. God’s not afraid of strong emotions. He has some pretty strong emotions Himself. Good perspective. Thank you, Nancy.

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