I’ll be the first one to admit that I think platitudes about gratitude are lame. (Though I’m sure I’ve made plenty on this blog . . .) Gratitude cannot be the solution to everything, and besides, some problems need to be wallowed in and solved that way.
In the middle of 2019, I decided to start a “Gratitude Journal, despite how corny it sounded. The aim was to train myself to be more in the moment. I wanted to learn to be more appreciative. To be happier.
I was in the middle of a waiting season. Waiting for grad school to start. Waiting to readjust to American culture. Waiting to for my heart to heal from wounds that seemed endlessly deep. I found myself constantly eager to move forward, yet simultaneously terrified of taking a new step. I distrusted myself. I distrusted people and the systems supposedly put in place to help me. Without wanting to, I also distrusted God.
So I wrote in this gratitude journal occasionally, and it was somewhat helpful. (It certainly wasn’t unhelpful.)
Living the Dream
Fast forward to now. I am in the middle of living out a dream of mine: attending seminary. (I am actually living out a literal dream I had four years ago that completely changed my heart toward seminary and on the potential joy of returning to school. But that’s another story.)
I get to study and write papers about topics that I find fascinating. I get to devote my time to learning! I also have a part-time job doing something else I love (teaching piano). I’ve even found a church where I can worship my heart out and even take steps to serve and be known (which if you know my story, is huge for me). What could be better, right?
Yet I still have days when I lie in bed feeling overwhelmed. Feeling sad. Tired. Frustrated. Afraid. Wishing God would just take me up in a whirlwind like he did Elijah.
Sometimes I feel unsure where I belong in this world. Unsure where I am headed. Uncertain I can really make a difference when all I can see is the ugliness, hypocrisy, and seemingly endless cycles of pride, selfishness, and cowardice all around.
Recently I found myself in such a place again. I was restless and unable to name the cause of my angst. I felt aimless, tired of trying to stand firm against the tides of doubt. The last thing on my mind was gratitude. But God met me in that place.
It’s the craziest thing. Every time, it blows me away. Whether I am up on a mountaintop or deep in the depths of a hole tunneled down in the middle of the lowest valley, God finds me. He finds a reason to draw close to me. God is never disgusted and rarely harsh. God’s tenderness always surprises me and melts me.
As God drew near, and as I cried like a child in her Father’s arms, a line from a movie I love (Things We Lost in the Fire) came to mind: “Accept the good.”
It reverberated through me. What good?
But then I started to think of things. I remembered all the friends I have made in recent months, all the amazing conversations I have had, all the care and love I have received. I remembered all the ways God has provided––financially, relationally, and physically. I remembered how much strength, boldness, and fortitude it took for me to arrive at this place. To simply get to where I am right now.
Leaving Korea to start over was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I did it. Not only did I leave, but I’ve built a new life. One I actually really like.
There are always uncertainties about the future, always things we lack. And we can choose to focus on those things, to stew on them, to worry and feel wronged, to compare our paths to others’ and take hold of self pity. But what good comes from that? Who by worrying actually improves his life? Who by complaining makes things better?
It was so simple, but so profound: Accept the good.
Putting myself in that posture of receiving changed everything. It revived me. It calmed me. It chastened me. And I quickly realized that what I was doing was practicing gratitude. Yikes.
I don’t want to forget this lesson, and I hope it is helpful for you, too. In any season, there is both good and bad. The mountaintop has its challenges, and the desert its beauties. I don’t want to ignore the bad or pretend it away. But I never want to minimize the good either. I never want to stop receiving it as the gift it is.