Grief: A paradoxical gateway to gratitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Along with the expectation for turkey and pumpkin pie is an even greater expectation of a heart bursting with gratitude. Some years that feels like a lot of pressure. This year is one of them for me.

I spent yesterday retreating from the busyness of the world, choosing to spend the the day in silence and solitude at my favorite retreat center. The day began with frustration and disappointment, but I shrugged it off as I made the 30-minute drive, happy to enter the quiet beauty of the center. I settled into a favorite chair with my Bible and my journal, prepared to encounter the Lord in whatever way He chose to present Himself. I was surprised to see what first flowed from my pen onto the page of my journal…

Thanksgiving is two days away…and I am here to grieve. Perhaps so that I can be truly thankful in two days.

Seriously, I had no idea that was what the day would hold.

I miss my Mom. I understand now how she came to be the person I often didn’t like, and my heart feels tender now towards that woman. The life she lived was not easy, and she didn’t have Jesus to lean on. (I am so grateful for you, Jesus!) I wish I could tell her that I understand now. I could be kinder and gentler and less angry now. But it’s too late. Nevermind that I had to experience the loss in order to arrive at this plac of understanding. Perhaps I need to be grateful for that, too–but I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

I miss youth. I’ve never wanted to be a person resentful of the aging process. It’s inevitable, so what’s the use in fighting it? But I don’t like it, nor do I want it really. My body doesn’t move as fast or as easily as it used to. I can’t see as well or think as fast. I want to welcome that as a green light to slowing down the pace of life a bit. But, truth be told, I am afraid of feeling useless.

I grieve unmet expectations. I have never been one to dwell long on regrets and I don’t want to start now. But I realize that I have precious few years left, and I don’t want to get to the end of them and be sad that I let opportunities pass by. There is so much of this world that I want to see and experience, and not nearly enough time left.

I’ve always loved the change of seasons, but today I grieve the end of warm sunny days. Winter is upon us. Lord, please don’t let it settle in my heart, too.

And the Lord graciously answered. I wept (honestly, I wailed!) until I had no more tears…and I didn’t apologize for it, not to God or to myself.

Then I went for a long walkdsc_0054-2 where I encountered beautiful fall color in the midst of the dull brown of approaching dsc_0122-1winter, admired the beauty of a bright red cardinal, and sat with a turtle slowly making his way through the fallen leaves. I took a nap. I sat in the afternoon sun, wrapped in a blanket, on a gently rocking porch swing and finished a really good book.

And at the end of the day I wrote…

I feel better, I think; ready to face home again. Maybe ready to be grateful as Thanksgiving arrives. It’s been a good day. Thank you, Lord, for listening while I poured out my grief, for collecting my tears in your bottle, for gently wiping my face dry. Thank you for legs strong enough to carry me down the trail and back up again, and for a camera that helps capture that which my eyes don’t see as well as they used to. Yes, it’s been a good day and I am grateful.

There’s something about grieving that opens our eyes and our hearts to gratitude. If you are struggling to be grateful on this day before Thanksgiving, perhaps you need to grieve a little…or a lot. Do it. And I will be praying that you, too, find it to be an unexpected gateway to gratitude.

 

 

A little gratitude…

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? You know… the avalanche of gratitude. This is the season where we make a point of expressing our thankfulness for all our blessings: family, friends, shelter, food, Jesus, salvation, the church, and so on. It’s not that I think this is inappropriate–my family traditionally shares something for which we are each especially grateful as we gather around the table at Thanksgiving. … But are we as focused on an “attitude of gratitude” from January through October?

Recently my husband was sharing some frustrations about his job, one of which is that he rarely gets any encouragement, much less an expression of gratitude. Case in point: a recent conversation in which his supervisor pointed out that my husband’s department only ranked third in the region, yet the department actually sold significantly more of a top-line product than during the previous year. What a difference it would have meant for my husband to hear, “Wow, Dave! You and your team did a great job increasing top-line product sales.” Knowing that you are never recognized for what you have accomplished makes it difficult some days to go to work.

As I listened, I couldn’t help contrast his situation with my own. In my church staff role, my pastor regularly expresses his gratitude for my ministry. Nothing fancy; no big hoopla. He simply interjects into a conversation that he appreciates my help… and that makes me smile.

I also work part-time at a local quilt shop. Not a week goes by that my manager fails to tell me that she is grateful for me. Most of the time, it’s specific–“thank you for all you do with our website, ” or “you put together beautiful fabrics for that customer’s quilt.” Often it’s said in front of a patron. No matter how hectic the day has been, I go home knowing that I am appreciated.

Getting up and going to work–whether it’s at church or at the quilt shop–is rarely a struggle for me. I feel valued in both roles. My husband, on the other hand, has to fight each day to maintain a positive attitude for himself and for his team.

Perhaps this is the season to take an objective look at the attitudes of your team members. Is anyone grumbling? Who “no-shows” on their day to serve? When is the last time you encouraged them with gratitude? Not the generic expressions of appreciation as one among many. No, something more specific and personal. Something that says, “I value you as an individual; your unique service is vital to our ministry as a whole.” No big hoopla, just a well-spoken word.

Reality check: You have good intentions, but you get busy and forget, right? Set a reminder on your calendar, post a sticky note, write it on your bathroom mirror, tie a string around your finger… whatever you need to do to remind yourself of this most important equipping value. Say “thank you” sincerely and often. A little gratitude offered regularly can yield joy-filled service and fruitful ministry!

___________________

P.S. One of the blessings that I’m most grateful for this year is you! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I know it’s valuable time out of your day, and I pray that you find encouragement for your ministry in return for your investment of time. Have a joyful Thanksgiving!