Thursday, September 4, 2014

Challenged by Grace and Gratitude

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. —Romans 5:3-5

So, there have been these gratitude challenges circulating around the usual social media sites, and I've been tagged at least twice. Sometimes I don't feel like making public pronouncements of my gratitude, but it only takes a moment before I realize how absolutely UNgrateful that attitude is. 

I roll my eyes at myself for being such a jerk and dig into the challenge.

The thing about gratitude is that you can't fake it. You really and truly cannot pretend at gratitude because pretending only serves to show you how small you think, and how ungrateful you are. What's interesting is that I have learned more about genuine gratitude by being treated badly from ungrateful people than I have ever learned through being showered in kindness. 

In fact, until I began pushing myself—HARD—to chase after a spirit of gratitude I seldom saw the riches right in front of me. I only saw disappointment at what I wanted but did not have. I was FILLED with resentment toward people who had what I wanted—so filled, in fact, that I couldn't even see what an angry person I was. Oh, I knew I was angry, but I felt entitled to my anger. Justified because I'd been badly wounded. 

The fact that I spent so much time acting grateful (at least when there was something to be gained from acting grateful) only piled on the resentment I harbored in my heart. I felt as though all of my phony gratitude was a costly gift to others that I could ill afford, and I didn't take it well when my faux-gratefulness wasn't rewarded with the IMMEDIATE satisfaction of what little I secretly wanted in return from not just whoever the poor soul was who had to deal with me, but from the world. I insisted that I wanted nothing, but turned into a brooding brute if whatever I craved or needed wasn't being satisfied.

It took bearing witness to the devastating heartbreak of someone I cherish—the epic agony of a severely broken heart (and my own heart gripped by devastating disappointment, impatience, and betrayal as a result) to shake me awake from my own ingratitude. 

When someone takes a deep blow directly to the heart it takes quite a while for them to find their feet again, and then to remember how to breathe. Looking at the carnage of my dear one's heart, and the mangled mess of my own, I wanted to lay in bed and hold my breath until something happened…but nothing did. There was just me and God in the void.

Instead of moving outside the void, I retreated to a coping mechanism that I developed in my younger years to protect me from the incomprehensible pain, fear, and anger I was left with after enduring years of childhood domestic violence and abuse. I withheld love and kindness from virtually anyone close to me who dared trespass on the threshold of my torn up heart and empty lungs. 

I was the worst to the people who loved me most. To this day, I couldn't tell you why except to say that in my suffering I'd grown to be an ingrate. 

Ingrates are terrified people. They are afraid to risk being grateful because they know what it is to have things taken quickly away. So, ingrates aren't as blind to good things as they pretend to be. "Oh I just can't see what there is to be grateful for," they complain. What they often mean is: I don't want what I cannot keep.

Therefore, when you remind an ingrate of their blessings, they sell short EVERYTHING  and EVERYONE of consequence in their lives. Ingrates aren't really searching for gratitude. Ingrates have given up, so they become stubborn, rebellious people who like their own drama better than any foreign or potential blessing—i.e. a blessing that they are unwilling to unpack and explore. I was a first class ingrate for many years.

When I was finally devastated beyond all comprehension—truly punch-drunk with soul deep hurt, confusion, anger, and disappointment—there was only one antidote to my nastiness. I had to come face to face with pain and loss and grief and suffering that surpassed my own so overwhelmingly that I was greatly humbled and ashamed. No matter how I tried to justify me, myself, and I, all roads led to the ugliest of mirrors…the one that showed me my ingratitude.
The hideous pain I saw belonged to someone I loved far more than any meme could express. It was core suffering that belonged to someone whom God had entrusted to me and tied to me at the depths of my soul. Not my daughter. That's a different kind of knot. This knot emerged through a divine appointment—a clear anointing to love and minister to someone I hardly knew at first. Talk about powerful. 

When God, Himself, gives you a personal message for someone…when He places a call upon your life to love someone in their darkest hours, there's no staving off the urge to love with fierceness and abandon. Your "walk away" setting has been disabled. You couldn't move if you wanted. So you stand like a palm tree in a hurricane bending and twisting in the fiercest of winds. You groan and howl along in agony—theirs and yours—but you don't get pulled from your place…even when you want to leave. You can't. You just can't.

It is there, there in the horrible injustice of someone else's suffering, that ingrates come eye to eye, heart to heart, and soul to soul with the necessity of gratitude. In such moments, we either determine to be truly grateful, whatever it takes, for the opportunity of being right where we are…next to a devastated dear one whose pain is profoundly beyond our ability to comfort it. The darkness and uncertainty of it all is where we make your peace with gratitude. 

When we begin to realize that not one breath can be taken as a given, and that the love we have from God (even if from no one else) is more than sufficient, and more than we deserve, THEN we get a glimpse of grace…God's unmerited favor. THEN we can live and love and be gracious and joyful.

Grace is the siren song of gratitude. It keeps luring us closer and closer to the truth of our ingratitude, and when we see it…we grieve…deeply…profoundly. And there in the grief, if we just open our eyes, is joy—the joy of the Lord, the joy that can come to us no other way but through the depths of suffering.

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