Once upon an ancient time, there were two people wandering through the desert. They were two amongst many thousands of individuals. They were fleeing captivity of an oppressive King. Called out of their captivity by God, they were a little confused and frightened, and hopeful for a better life. A homeland of their own. A promised land. The journey was a tough one, especially with their captors in hot pursuit.
They came up to the shore of a large sea with the enemy hoards closing in on them. Our two friends Pondered aloud if their God led them out only to have them slaughtered in the desert?! While they debated and fretted, they and the mass of humanity kept walking.
Oblivious to what was going on they left the banks of dry land. As they walked, they became aware of the mud sticking to their sandals. Their feet sank inches into the sticky mud, covering their feet and squishing in between their toes. They complained to one another bitterly as they walked.
Finally, reaching the other side of the sea and walking up onto dry land, they let out sighs of relief but were puzzled by the cheers that erupted from the multitudes with them.
It seems that while these two were busy complaining about their muddy feet they failed to notice the two towering walls of seawater miraculously parted and held back by an act of God who led them. By a God who loved them.
One of the most significant challenges for those who are learning to look for God in all things is in when things are tough. It is very easy to get fixated on the problem, and this often leads us to complain. I get it, though, we all complain sometimes; the key is that we don't get stuck there. When we get stuck in complaining we are stuck in the problem and less likely to discern ways to navigate our way through it. When we complain and wallow in our circumstances, we can miss what God is doing. Like the two fellas in our story, they were so focused on their muddy feet they missed the miracle of the sea parting and the massive walls of water being held back. They missed their deliverance in the midst of their deliverance.
It is natural when we are going through tough stuff to feel it. It hurts. It is okay to admit that and give voice to that. Healthy lamenting is a powerful way to process circumstances and strong negative emotions. However, we need to guard that we don't get lost in it, and one such way is the deliberate practice of gratitude. A posture of gratitude, intentionally choosing to be grateful lifts our focus from our failure, circumstance, sin, shame and it changes how we see the world, ourselves and circumstances and puts them in a larger context.
Gratitude enlarges the heart, keeps them soft, while bitterness shrinks our hearts and inhibits our ability to experience and respond to real life in ways that are healthy. Gratitude can inspire creative problem-solving and a dynamic ability to persevere and overcome. It enable us to see solutions and circumstances that can lead us through tough circumstances. It helps us to recognize divine interventions in the multiplicity way they present themselves.
Gratitude can help us recognize that we are not alone, helps us connect with other people. With the support of a few faithful, forgiving friends, it is amazing what we can walk through. Also realizing that Jesus is with us and that no matter what nothing can separate us from the love of God because the way Jesus holds us.
Quick Strategies for Practicing Gratitude
Practice Gratitude - It may sound a little odd, but we can get in the habit of complaining and being negative. This didn't happen over night - you had to practice being negative. So, it makes sense that we need to practice be grateful and positive. This is two-fold: we become aware of the negative talk and attitudes. We recognize it for what it is and then let it go. Resist the temptation to get angry with yourself as you catch yourself being negative, just recognize it, and then let it go. The second is to be very deliberate to acknowledge the positive things in your life. It can be helpful to say Thank you each time out loud (or under your breath). I also encourage folks to quickly write them down for inventory at the end of the day. (See below)
Take inventory - Specifically, list all the things you are grateful for. Prayerfully, with the Spirit review your life and look for the things that encourage you, people, who mean a great deal and encourage you. Look for beauty, listen for beauty. Now practice this daily. Prayerfully review your day and ask for the grace to see the ways in which God may have been at work in your day - a phone call, a sunrise, a piece of music, a poem, a piece of sacred writing, a compliment, encouragement... you get the idea.
As you Practice Gratitude
Faithful, forgiving friends - We all need somebody to lean on... Just call on your brotha when you need a hand... goes the song and there is wisdom in this. We all need some healthy, encouraging friends that can support us when things are tough. This doesn't mean that they can "fix it" for you rather they encourage you, support you in healthy processing and activities to deal with your circumstance in the best ways possible
Beware of Negative People - They can be longtime friends but sometimes, for a multitude of reasons some friends can be toxic. Instead of encouraging you they end up discouraging you, ratcheting up the anger, bitterness, and pain. These well-meaning friends may not be equipped to deal with their own stuff well, so it may be a good idea to limit time with folks who may be negative.
Get Help - Sometimes situations and circumstances can be soul-crushing, and it is often a very good idea to find a qualified and thoughtful professional to help you process and work through some things.