Some days my heart is like an impending storm. Scary, dark clouds gathered threatening a meltdown, an overpowering amount of anger or sadness. This was the state of my heart as I wrote this reflection. I was right in the middle of a stressful and arduous work routine that left me with more questions than answers. Nonetheless, there were things to be thankful for amidst my storming heart. These thankfulness tidbits were like light contouring the clouds of confusion, frustration, and weariness that threatened to overtake me; acting like the proverbial silver lining. It was around this time I decided to share my journey through the practice of intentional thankfulness with other people. First, in day to day conversation,and then eventually in this blog. As I began to share this practice and it’s impact on my life, I struggled with the possibility of being misunderstood. But it had become one of those fire- in -my -bones experiences that I could not keep silent about. While some of the benefits of thankfulness were more obvious, I discovered another side to thankfulness that was not so obvious.
Thankfulness makes me feel like my struggles are not legitimate
When I started practicing intentional thankfulness it changed the way I talked about my days. I started speaking more freely about the beautiful things I saw in every day simply because I saw them more clearly. However, I also found myself qualifying my struggles. I did not want anyone to dismiss my thankfulness to an easy life! So alongside my thankfulness came complaints about how hard things were for me. I wanted everyone to understand just how challenging it was to choose this outlook and respect my choice to live like this every day. Do you hear it? This is the voice of pride, insecurity, and the insatiable need for applause-even just implied applause. This is the ugliness the practice of thankfulness exposed in my heart. In this humbling moment of truth, I was reminded to let go of what people think about me. Regardless of how it is received, being thankful did not mean my struggles were any less valid.
Sometimes I am too weary to be thankful
You might imagine that taking on a challenge like this will set you on a path of abounding energy and resilience. It does, but it is not a magic pill. I have days when I am discouraged and disillusioned. On those days, purposeful, shared thankfulness is not appealing and I am forced to confront the recesses of my heart. Am I the kind of person who perseveres to the end? Am I the kind of person who bears hardship well? Am I the kind of person who stands in the face of a storm? Am I the kind of person who is immovable? I often think that this kind of person shows their true colors in some valiant public moment but I am finding that most acts of strength go unseen. It takes strength to choose not to give in to weariness. It takes strength to look at your struggle and decide to keep moving forward. It takes strength to see others when your own world wants to swallow you up. Most of the time, I want to wait for my claim-to-fame opportunity to do a valiant act instead of embracing strength and courage in those everyday moments. Choosing to be thankful in the less-than-ideal times has been a way to take a stand in the face of life’s storms and stay steadfast.
Hope is scary
Developing a lifestyle of thankfulness has made me more hopeful. Hope is such a powerful force. Hope motivates me to reach for things that would otherwise have been out of my reach. With hope however, comes the very real possibility of shattered dreams, deep disappointment, and disillusionment. As such, I have walked away from experiences wondering why I even bothered getting involved. On the other hand, I have also seen blessings embedded in my failures and disappointments . These have refined and strengthened my hope. Through consistent thankfulness I am realizing this familiar cycle of disappointment and hopefulness is the back drop of everything worth doing. Constantly trying, constantly failing, sometimes succeeding but always learning and growing.
Sometimes my heart struggles against the one to whom I owe my thanks
Throughout this journey of purposeful thankfulness I quickly realized that it is almost impossible to be thankful for something without being thankful to someone. Who is responsible for the blessings I experience? How is it possible that those blessings seemed handpicked for me every day? As questions like these nudge my heart, I am discovering more about the beautiful heart of my God. Yet, there are still times when I am more entitled than I am thankful. In keeping with this entitlement, I sometimes wonder if God and I could strike a bargain and He could just give me what I want.
Contrary to my self-centered nature, thankfulness takes a measure of humility to realize that the less I see the wisdom of God’s sovereignty, the more I need to spend time wrestling with it because my heart is not naturally inclined to see God clearly or correctly. Yet many times it is easier to entertain the thought of going rogue than it is to keep walking with Him faithfully. It is a battle of wills that confronts the sincerity of my thankfulness, and necessarily exposes a struggle I need to master.
Thankfulness doesn’t take away the uncertainty
When I started being purposefully thankful a false hope began to creep into my heart. It goes like this: Maybe if I choose to look up even in the face of uncertainty, things will start going my way. It’s a vicious lie that I have been forced to confront. Whereas we should all take rightful control of ourselves and our interactions with different circumstances, there is a built in level of uncertainty in life that we need to make peace with. Uncertainty makes thankfulness difficult and many times nullifies my efforts to shrink all of life into a sphere I can control. Choosing intentional thankfulness has helped me have richer days, no doubt about that, but it has not spontaneously ended my struggles or given me the control I often long for. If anything those challenges have sometimes lasted longer! There is no magic pill for life, no way to just by pass all of its hardships but there is a way to gain richly from them, and bear them well. This was a lesson my heart needed to learn.
When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, I was stupid and didn’t understand; I was an unthinking animal toward you. Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Psalm 73:21-23 (HCSB)