When Gratitude Isn’t Enough
It’s the beginning of Thanksgiving week. Actually, it seems like November has become Thanksgiving month, with many choosing to focus on things they are grateful for all month. It’s a sweet tradition that helps those that participate in it feel gratitude for the blessings in their lives. It’s always good to stop, look around, and take a moment to focus on the good that is in our lives. But what about those that are deeply hurting, lonely, grieving, depressed or in need this Thanksgiving? What about those who can’t feel better right now, no matter what they do? What about when gratitude isn’t enough?
Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. I still have fond memories of waking up on Thanksgiving Day to the smell of turkey in the oven along with onions and celery being sautéed on the stove (for the pan of cornbread dressing Mom was starting). I would watch the Macy’s parade until the very end, where Santa and his reindeer would be the grand finale, ushering in the Christmas season. Then we would gather around the table with family or friends that had joined us and eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal, turkey & dressing with all the sides and desserts too! Next up was football! My Dad was a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan and the Cowboys always played on Thanksgiving Day. Together we would fight through the Turkey coma that always tried to take us down so that we could watch the Cowboys game. And then finally, in the evening, we would set up the Christmas tree. This was our tradition year after year…
When I became an adult, things started changing. Now that it was ME doing all the cooking and prepping for guests, I had ZERO energy to even THINK about putting up the Christmas tree that night. How did my Mom do it??? Yeah, that tradition quickly went out the window after I had my own family. I still love to cook a traditional meal, have family and/or friends over, watch the parade and football — but Christmas decorating is definitely waiting for another day!
Also, as I’ve gotten older, the stresses of life have become more burdensome. There are definitely days where I can feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and by taking a moment to focus on my blessings, I can feel better. But there have also been days where that hasn’t worked at all. My head knows how good I have it in many ways, but that knowledge isn’t working it’s way down to my grieving heart. I’ve had well-meaning friends and family try to cheer me up with sayings like, “You’re too blessed to be stressed!” ... or “Things could be worse!” … or “Focus on your blessings. You can’t feel gratitude and depression at the same time!” Well, I’m here to tell you, that’s baloney. You absolutely CAN feel them both at the same time. I’ve done it many times. And that’s OKAY. We are complex humans with complex emotions. Friends, I’m here to tell you if that’s where you are right now. FEEL IT. FEEL IT ALL. It’s the only way to work through it.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t focus on the good things in your life. That is always helpful for me on some level, but it doesn’t remove whatever else I’m going through. We can live in the “Both/And” of life this week. We can hold two truths at the same time. It doesn’t have to be either/or. And we can hold space for more than one emotion in our hearts. We don’t have to negate one to acknowledge the other.
-We can be very grateful for the blessings we have and yet still yearn for something we desperately want or grieve for something lost.
-We can be grateful for the loved ones gathering with us this week and at the same time, sad for those who aren’t here this year.
-We can be grateful for the good food that is on the table before us, and at the same time, be concerned for so many who can’t afford a Thanksgiving meal.
-We can be grateful for new experiences around the holidays, and still sad about losing old traditions.
We shouldn’t have to be made to feel only one feeling at a time. That’s not how humans were made. And like the title of one of my recent favorite books by author Kate Bowler says, “There’s No Cure For Being Human”. What I’ve realized is I don’t want the cure. Being human is a beautiful thing. Even with all the sad, hurtful, sometimes brutal parts of life, the beauty of it all makes it worth it.
Personally, I’m definitely feeling a bunch of different emotions surrounding the upcoming holidays. Not just Thanksgiving, but Christmas too. So this year, I’m giving myself permission to feel it all. I won’t shame myself for not feeling happy and joyful everyday. I’ll allow myself time to feel my feelings and remember that humans aren’t that one dimensional. All the clichés in the world won’t take away the very real sadness and grief I’m working through. Aren’t we all carrying grief these days? It sure seems like it to me.
I’ve learned that finding the balance is what works best for me. Suppressing what I’m feeling doesn’t help. It just causes an eruption of epic proportions to build up and trust me, no one wants to see that. But it’s not healthy to continually wallow in the sad, dark places of my soul either. So, at the wise advice of my therapist, I try to take a little time every day to check in with myself and see what I need. Do I need to sit down and have a good cry? Do I need to read a book about processing life’s difficult emotions? Do I need to scream into my pillow, or yell at God in a prayer of lament? Whatever it is I need, it honestly helps me to feel my feelings. And then… I take a good deep breath and move on to the business of life that lies before me. The wonder of life. The beauty of life. The joy of life. It’s all there. We just need to see it sometimes through tear-stained lenses.
If you are struggling with grief or loss this holiday season, another book I highly recommend is this beautiful book by Amanda Held Opelt. I’m reading it right now and finding it so helpful.
More grief resources you might find helpful:
“How to handle an overload of grief”
“Stop trying to move on from your grief”
“How to cope with grief during the holidays”
So what do we do when gratitude isn’t enough? We work through our emotions while hanging on to hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope for the day when we don’t need to cry. Hope for the day we feel lighter and lovelier. But until then, let’s not feel bad for having human emotions. Being human is a complex, complicated, emotional ride, but one I am daily grateful for. Even with all the struggles, I can honestly say in my prayer today, “Thank you, God, for the experience of being human.”
Speaking of prayers, I’ll end this blog today with one of the most beautiful prayers I have heard in awhile. I have struggled with my prayer life at times, (I mean, c’mon, who hasn’t?) - but I’m really drawn to real, honest, ugly prayers these days. All the pretty prayers, made-up to sound perfect and beautiful are not my bag. This one got me right from the start when she addressed our Creator with, “God of the comma…” Man, I know exactly what she means. Living in the comma can be HARD. So if that’s where you are, this beautiful prayer by *Samantha Beach Kiley may be just the balm you need today.
May God bless you and keep you, friends….
Much love, Marcia
*Samantha Beach Kiley is associate pastor at Church on Morgan
God of the comma - by @samanthabeachk
God of the comma,
You told Your disciples that wars, earthquakes and famines do not have the last word.
Speak, then, to those who sit amidst the rubble of catastrophe.
Inspire all who lack imagination fro what lies beyond the death of a plan.
Encourage healers and first responders who show up when a world ends.
Shelter families in countries near and far who fear the next blow will be the one they cannot take.
For all those inside a Before and After story, pull Your goodness forward.
Dignify the ones who lament invisible, unnamable conclusions to a chapter they cannot get back.
And when we fear death, sing to us from the other side.
You said that stone is less permanent than it appears.
Humble all who have been elected to a temporary seat in a temporary building.
Align their attention with the new life You are ushering forth.
Reveal Your image in the faces of those we would demonize, and teach us to love each other more than our opinions.
In the districts of our world where there can be no safe elections, have mercy.
Where corruption reigns, bring justice.
Where chaos rules, being stability.
In Iran, protect our sisters.
Weep with all peoples everywhere who are governed by those who don’t represent them.
Deepen the investment of those insulated from impact.
Remind us of the kingdom You’re bringing to bear, and breathe with us through the birth pains.
We’d also take some kind of epidural.
Give us good drugs like art and dogs. Belly laughs. Full tables. And skies with too many stars.
Engineer of the lunar eclipse,
You taught that darkness was momentary.
Make Your church the last to call doomsday.
Trade us the vision that sees in only two colors for the one that sees in the night.
Catch us in the lobby when we try to leave at intermission.
Make us a people who can hear the prelude inside every finale.
Promise us that You remain.
In the name of Your Son, author of the false ending,
Amen. (for now)
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It was a revelation to me (several years ago) when I realized I could feel more than one thing at a time. I really like what you wrote. As a person currently in the deepest part of grief I can honestly say that I still find myself in the kitchen singing and dancing as well as being huddled in my bed sobbing. Both are my truth. Both are real. And accepting both helps me heal. Thanks for your excellent post.
Holidays are arbitrary days when something is celebrated. Life, and the complications of dual feelings occur everyday. And it’s a part-time job, at least, to look inward and make some sense of the cascade of feelings we all carry by the hour. There’s no right or wrong to any of it: especially grief. Besides the obvious shock and emptiness of loss there is also a soulful introspection and awareness in grief that “every show closes”, and that all of us will die and leave this Earth. Maybe that’s when honest gratitude should kick in. Maybe that’s when we truly realize that “the present moment” is the greatest teacher of all.