I usually do. Most Octobers I sit down and list the good things in my life (count your blessings, name them one by one). It is a good exercise (and a mediocre song), but it’s not working for me like it used to. As the years go by my list of struggles is just a long as my list of blessings and, to be quite honest, feels more real. Focusing on blessings seemed a bit too forced, so I took a new route to gratitude’s door this year.
I began by listing the darkness in my life—counting my challenges, pains and frustrations.
Sounds fun, right?
I’ll spare you the details, but here is a summary of what is on my list.
I have a bunch of unresolved questions and unsatisfied longings. I have doubts about things I have always assumed to be true and sometimes that is scary. I have regrets and darkness and unfulfilled dreams that leave me feeling confused and worthless. I am surrounded by the wounds and fears of those that I love. Conflict, discouragement and brokenness seem to reside right under the surface of every person I know. Human willpower and human goodwill seem very short on both power and goodness. Natural tragedy, disease and death all seem to be increasing at an alarming pace.
Stepping back, I have mixed reactions when I look at that list. In my best moments, I believe that the darkness within and around me is a God-given reminder that I was made for more than this world. At other times I find the whole thing debilitating, I am overwhelmed, and I just want to curl into a fetal position with my electric blanket on high. I usually waffle somewhere between hope and despair.
Today I have discovered a third response: gratitude.
Today I stand smack-dab in the middle of it all with as much honesty as I can muster and I give thanks. I choose to live within the tension of the beauty and pain and thank God for the whole lot of it. I become aware that the richness of life is not only found in those things that I experience as being “good.” I see that the glass is both half-full and half-empty and I am thankful for the glass.
Maybe the greatest miracle of gratitude is not to be thankful for the good in this world, but to get real about the bad and be thankful that you can still be thankful? My “non-blessing” list admits a deeper reality and also makes possible a deeper gratitude. A gratitude that I am thankful to experience today.
Happy Thanksgiving whatever path to gratitude you choose to take!