When knowing you should be grateful just doesn’t cut it

Our “Gratitude Turkey” 🙂

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his love endures forever.  1 Chronicles 16: 34

One day a year the whole country slows and asks us to name a few things for which we’re grateful.  This morning after greeted me with the happy lingering aromas of turkey and gravy and pumpkin pie, and a lingering smile from the family and festivities.

In my home, thankful lips seemed to open easy this week – for siblings and bunk beds, for friends and legs that run, for mountains and woodsy trails, for chocolate and Legos and sparkles and a million species of animals.

Elsewhere, hearts heave with loved ones lost, with illness and addiction and broken relationships and shattered dreams.  In those places or at those times, the call to gratitude can feel a bit cruel.

When we’re honest, gratitude doesn’t always come easy.  Even in the most beautiful and seemingly blessed lives, hearts can sit heavy with unnamed pains and haunting fears.  Churning anxieties or a cloak of shame can shade the best of intentions to live a grateful life.

For us mamas, another little old lady in the grocery store check-out says to “Cherish every minute,” and we’re left in a puddle of guilt about how we must not be woman enough.  To cherish the tantrums and the sleeplessness and the defiance… to cherish the ache for the baby you lost, or the positive pregnancy test that never came…  to cherish every minute as you pry your hands open and let your children go into the big scary world…. to cherish every minute as you juggle endless appointments, or as you throb with after school tears from the child who can’t manage to make a friend… to cherish every minute as you grieve over unreached milestones, or as you long to draw close to the child who won’t talk to you… to cherish every moment if you haven’t slept a full night or used the bathroom by yourself in a decade.

Motherhood is a the most tremendous joy and privilege of my life.  But can we just be honest that sometimes cherishing every minute is really, really hard?

Whether you are walking through the darkest of times, or your life looks pristinely perfect on the outside, sometimes knowing we should be grateful just doesn’t quite cut it.

Like the child who mutters “Thank you” when served that food they dislike, the words sometimes hurt coming out, and leave a bit of an aftertaste of unspoken caveats and exceptions.

Maybe we can manage to muster up a list of blessings, but our hearts remain stone cold to peace, to joy, to the promise of God’s goodness.  Maybe we writhe in guilt because we know we have everything we’ve dreamed of, but our hearts can’t seem to sort through the whining or the fatigue to soak it all in.

Early on in my parenting journey, I think I functioned out of a mentality that if my grateful moments simply outnumbered the annoyed or frustrated or discouraged moments, that I would get by ok.  But as the years went by, the demands increased, and the challenges grew a little beyond throwing a plate off the highchair, this mentality fell short.  I found that most of my time was influenced by irritation or just plain exhaustion.

I began to find that gratitude couldn’t just flow out of the easy moments, when my children were looking cute and adoring me.  It had to flow out of a deeper and more powerful choice.

It’s more like that mama in the waiting room at the orthopedist’s office last week, as my eldest and I sat in the hum of activity, with a spattering of comforting words over little ones in all stages of X-rays and braces and casts and healing journeys, with the ring of busy phones and the buzz of cast saw reverberating in the stale medical air.

Amidst the bustle, I heard another sound.  Simple and pure and imperfect in that real life beautiful kind of way.  A mama with tired eyes and unhappy toddler in arms, awaiting an elder child in the X-ray room, joyfully singing “Skip to my Lou” as if it was the thing she was put on earth to do.  She bounced and sang, snuggled and sang, walked and twirled and sang.

And it fell on my ears like the melody of praise.

I have to think it fell on God’s the same, as she poured herself out in service to her little one, comforting and reassuring with happy tune and tight embrace.

The beauty of the sound wasn’t in it’s perfect pitch or impeccable tone.  The beauty wasn’t that the act was dramatic or difficult.  The beauty was in the simple surrender; a smile for a moment that invited a frown, a melody for a moment that invited scorn, joy for a moment that invited only weariness.  When many moms might tire of the fight, this mama chose to be poured out.  She chose to give herself away, in the midst of an unpleasant moment, to this tiny person before her.

I think our gratitude looks a bit like this.  It looks like telling our own souls to get up and sing, when they feel like crawling into a hole.   When the curves of our mouths are heavy low, we lift them up like weights on a bench, like Moses’ arms over battle, claiming a victory that we can’t yet feel or quite believe.  When our lips are inclined towards complaining or self-pity, we can choose to lift them up in praise.

Gratitude doesn’t have to be easy to be good.  It doesn’t have to be constant to be worth it.  Every time we make a choice to offer up a sacrifice of praise with our hands at the kitchen sink, we invite the power of God.  Every time we offer up a sacrifice of praise with our lips in a tender word to our children, we invite peace and joy into our homes.  Every time we offer up a sacrifice of praise with our eyes in a lifted gaze, we invite renewed strength to our weary bones.  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever. (1 Chronicles 16: 34)

So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.  But Moses’ hands were heavy, then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Our supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other.  Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. Exodus 17: 11-12

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