Gratitude: A Quiet Discipline, An Offering, A Setting Down, An Unfreezing of the Heart, A Spiritual Continuum

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I wake up every day tired, mostly of me. This is how depression repeatedly exposes itself to me, in exhaustion. With each breath and step in the day, with every mundane activity only reinforcing my life’s obvious lack of direction. It is sad. I seem unable to enjoy life.

Sometimes I think this is easily solvable.  Do I have a lack of gratitude for all the good in my life? It might look like that if you saw my beautiful life.

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If pushed I can name all the things for which I am thankful. In my bleaker moments, I imagine that I don’t know how to live out this gratitude.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 – c. 1327)

I don’t completely agree, but I know that it is up there in importance in the spiritual formation of a believing heart. Anne Lamott says help, thanks, wow in her tiny book by that title.

To implore, to give thanks and to offer praise create the liminal places preparing us for a deeper spiritual life. This allows for a vulnerable, more exposed and prepared spiritual self.

It is lost to us when we get caught up in over thinking and not allow ourselves moments in the day when we let go of that rigid way of spirituality in the form of dry and useless ingratitude.

The wonderful Catholic visionary and author of more than 40 books Joan Chittister says:

“Gratitude is not only the posture of praise. It is also the basic element of real belief in God.”

This convicts my aching, thankless, over thinking mind and heart.

One of my favorite spiritual fathers, a gently resplendent author, the late Henri Nouwen, is the most convincing to me today. As a recovering alcoholic I seem to have many resentments that crowd in before I know it. I can go through a whole day, my brain buzzing with one resentment or critical thought after another, and then before I realize it my physical body and spiritual heart and heartless brain are full.  I am brimming with bitterness and judgement.

In Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit he said:

“”The opposite of resentment is gratitude (from the Latin gratia = favor). Gratitude is more than an occasional ‘thanks be to God.’ Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve, and make these gifts visible to the community as a source of celebration …” When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.”  (My emphasis)

My bleak spiritual state is so obvious to me when I am depressed. But to dwell there deciding my life is useless would be the real tragedy. Even with and perhaps because of depression, even with some of the things that plague so many of us including spiritual doubt, incessant fear or anxiety, the self-hatred so many struggle with, our life’s deep regrets and our brokenness.

Before God these are my questions. Am I am able to let go of them and lay them in prayer at the Cross? Can I set them down to pick up the communion bread and cup? Can I find, as a daily discipline, a few things for which I can say thanks? If this is hard, especially for a melancholic person like myself, I think it’s paramount to express thanks as a part of our life of spiritual discipline.

Gratitude it’s an offering. Gratitude is a discipline. It is a setting down of bitter burdens to try to trust God with our brokenness.

Gratitude I think is the ultimate trust.  This isn’t a formula; rather it is a part of life’s spiritual continuum.

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Wisconsin has had more than 30 days below zero already this winter.  It’s a hard place for me to live. It’s a cold, wrecked bitter place. But it also has great beauty such as snowflakes falling this morning; dancing as they fall, whirling playfully and slowly, and dropping to the already covered ground.  I have to admit, sitting here in my warm house it is beautiful to see the snow form into an angel.

Gratitude is a spiritual or life discipline that can bring health and heart healing.

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For the next 30 days or so, through the bleakest whitest part of winter, I’m going to keep track in writing. Want to try it with me?  Perhaps the last activity before sleep or first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee.  Take a moment to write five things (or even one) for which you are grateful.

Will this cause an inner shift in my frozen, depressed heart caught up in its own gloom? It may not.  It may simply get me through this frozen winter.  Whatever the outcome, I’m a little more hopeful today.

Let me know if you’re going to try 30 days or nights of private gratitude. Let’s step toward this hope together.

{Growing up in a house chock-o-block full of Resentments and Grudges}

Yesterday I was a jerk.

And the odd thing, and what was quite alarming to be honest, is in the moment I felt justified.

So I shot out a petty email, said couple of things that I can’t get back.  While possibly true, I was dragging up old issues – my old issues.  And it’s entirely my fault that I have held on to this old difference of opinion. I don’t know what to do with Resentments. I vacillate when there is a potential for conflict and sometimes this turns into resentment.

I grew up in a house chock-o-block full of Resentments and Grudges.  My parents were always feeling insulted or resenting or holding a grudge from something someone did or said.  I suppose it sounds like I’m blaming them for today, but not really.

I just don’t have the tools to sort out what resentments are worth getting into and hashing out. And which ones you surrender and ask God to help you forget and of course eventually forgive.

I carried a resentment from Christmastime that reared its ugly head yesterday when asked a favor (and it was not a small favor mind you, but normally something that I would consider gladly).  Whew! Rather than slowing down and asking myself what to do about that Ugly Old Thing, I kind of made the person asking for the favor pay for it now.

Blindsided by this old concern, this person justifiably lashed back.

And then it was an opportunity to get into it and really hurt each other.  Or I could admit that I was wrong.  And, after much discussion and processing with Tom (I am so grateful for him), feeling attacked, and justified, and unfairly accused, and self-righteous, I did finally manage to get around to being genuinely conciliatory.

Today I sit here, sorely disappointed with myself and trying not to think about whether the other person was also wrong….because ultimately I am not their conscience.

But I thought I was passed this sort of immature crap.

And gratefully, this morning I was led to scripture. 

Alive in Christ is supposed to mean dead to your transgressions and sins, in order to do good works.  (Ephesians 2:1-10).   We are purified by him to slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, to show to humility to all. (Titus 2:14) At one time you lived in malice and envy, but when the kindness and love of God appeared … He saved us (not because of good things we have done) but because of his mercy.  Through washing, rebirth, renewal by the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:2) put off your old self to be made new in the attitude of your minds, put on new self. (Ephesians 4:30-31)  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, malice, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, be children of light whose fruit are goodness and truth and righteousness.

It’s hard to admit when I am wrong.  Being rigid and inflexible is not what we are meant for nor are we ever justified to carry around resentments because they can, and likely will, rear up at the worst moment.  As we rub against people in life, we’re going to make mistakes. For me, in those moments, it is sometimes most difficult to forgive myself.