I cannot count how many times I have been told to be thankful.
Be thankful you are still young, still healthy, still have this, still have that, still able to this or that, blah blah blah…
Fill in the blanks.
When life sucker punches us, kicks us, knocks us over, turns our world inside out and through the ring of fire, we often feel we are being shamed out of our pain and dragged into this blinding light to JUST. BE. THANKFUL.
The worst and best part is that all this is being done with the best of intentions.
It’s no secret that a thankful heart is nearly the opposite of one that is drowning in pity and pain.
These people, they are on to something… but are naively going about this the wrong way.
In my own world, I felt deeper pain when I was told to be thankful. First of all, I knew what I had, and now on top of the original pain, I felt guilt for not showing enough gratitude for what was already mine.
I wrote years ago, this post, and at the end there is a line that haunted me the moment I typed it. It was one of those posts I wrote through ugly tears one late night at the peak of holiday season. I knew it was true, and I knew I was riding the fence between these two worlds. Seeing it in word form was a wake up call, and a little startling because I wasn’t sure where I’d land in the end.
While you might feel completely incapable of writing anything down in your list of things to be thankful for, I challenge you to open your heart to a different perspective on finding gratefulness, even in brokenness. Gratitude isn’t Thanksgiving or turkeys or thinking of and naming off all the things you should be thankful for.
As incredulous as it may seem, beautiful things, the things we should be thankful for hurt too. They hurt because our whole world hurts. Every fragment of happiness and life feels like a violation to our brokenness.
HOW DARE THE SUN SHINE!
HOW DARE THE BIRDS SING ON A DAY LIKE THIS!
HOW DARE I LAUGH AT SOMETHING HYSTERICAL AFTER WHAT HAPPENED!
So yea, thankfulness… not our forte in brokenness.
Brokenness isn’t exactly the breeding ground for overflowing gratitude, unless…
Unless you step outside the box for a moment.
In my workshop I like to challenge grieving mothers to see gratitude as counting the things that aren’t making their frame of mind, their day, their lives, their pain worse. Because, let’s be honest — nothing can make it better. Nothing. So asking a broken person to be thankful for what they have is pointless. They see what they have, and frankly, it isn’t enough (whether the person giving this advice agrees or not).
Start with little expectation.
For starters, let’s talk about what gratitude will NOT do:
- make your pain go away
- make things better
- make you forget what happened
- cure you
- heal you
- erase what happened
- help you move on
Instead, practicing gratitude WILL:
- help you be intentional about where you let your mind wander, and dwell
- help you recognize things that are helping you, and not helping you grieve/ heal/ be
- help you take control of your life
Notice how all these things that it WILL do, affect one person, YOU.
Of course, there are many, many things I could add to both lists, but that mostly depends on, again – you. You are the pilot, in control of your destination.
Gratitude after experiencing incredible heartbreak isn’t impossible, but it also doesn’t look like the traditional image of giving thanks. At the core of gratitude is control. And that is what I love about choosing thankfulness, gratitude, mindfulness. In my opinion, these three are tied together. Being grateful is choosing to be mindful, choosing control, choosing happiness or peace on some level, choosing yourself again.