Originally published Tuesday, 26 November 2013.
Gratitude is a choice....as is bitterness. Bitterness is much easier to choose though. It flows so naturally out of hearts that have been disappointed. Bitterness says, "yeah it's good, but it's not great"..."it's just not fair"..."yeah it's nice, but look at all the hard work it comes with...it's too hard." Bitterness focuses on the costs, and not the reward. It shoots envious eyes at the blessings of others, overlooking the gifts in our own baskets.
Gratitude says "thank you", even when we don't get everything we want. It acknowledges the overflow of gifts that we live in everyday, and is humbled by how generous the Giver is. Gratitude says "no" to bitterness and discontentment.
When my son was about 18 months old, we began to include him in our prayers. The prayer would typically be something along the lines of, "Dear God, thank you for our food, thank you for our new baby, and thank you for Ian. Amen". He would excitedly yell "MAE-MEN!"
He loved this new time (and still does today), so he would frequently ask to pray multiple times throughout the day...often just minutes after we finished another prayer. It caused us to think harder about the things we were thankful for. We would find ourselves on the third prayer in 20 minutes saying "thank You for the rain outside, and that we are inside and warm. Thank you that we all got showers this morning and thank you that the water was hot and clean and safe. Amen." The more often we would stop to pray, the more we would recognize the "small" things to be grateful for.
We've all known people who cannot find something to say unless it is negative. They narrow in on every uncomfortable detail and complain more than rejoice. After a while, you start to realize that if everything in this person's life is negative, it probably has more to do with the person than the circumstances. Some choose to live in this place everyday. But all of us choose to live this way at some point. On certain days, or in specific circumstances, we choose bitterness over gratitude. We choose to complain, rather than say thank you.
Last fall, a young woman I knew died suddenly and left behind two young children. I was overwhelmed with grief for her and her family - and struck with a heavy sense gratitude for the life that I live.
Life with a toddler is hard, but even the hardest moments are beautiful. On the night that I learned of her death, we had a particularly rough family dinner. My toddler threw every piece of food onto the floor and cried when I didn't respond fast enough. I ended up eating my dinner on my feet, so that I could follow him around the house while he wreaked havoc. And all I could think was..."Thank You God. Thank You for letting me feed him dinner and follow him around the house cleaning up after him. Thank You for the gift of giving him a bath and changing his dirty diapers. Thank you for letting me read to him and hold him and pray with him before bed. Thank You for every hard part of this, because it means that I am his mom. Thank You." I was thinking these things while I read him a book and prayed with him before bed. The emotions in my throat were so thick, I could hardly utter a word. I left his room and cried. Standing in the hall, next to his door, I thanked God for my whole life - the exciting and the mundane...the painful and the beautiful.