Cultivate Gratitude, Another Annoying Good Idea
My legs were pumping faster than they had since my college athlete days, and a phrase kept pressing itself into the grooves of my brain, settling itself closer to the surface of my heart. Our spin instructor, a South African spitfire, was shouting encouragement to help us endure, and it felt incredible to push myself to exert energy beyond my current capacity. The music thumped through my body at the edge of a dark room, and though surrounded by people, I entered into solitude. Not realizing how desperate I actually was for a moment of having my body arrested and mind clear, I rode furiously in gratitude.
When I get alone, I get grateful.
As a mother of two rambunctious boys (currently have a black eye from a hug that nearly cracked open my skull), a wife, a pastor, and just another on the edge human living in New York, I wake up to people, get on the train with people, go to work with people in the WeWork world of strangers, ride home with people - packed like sardines, and come home to my people. But it is in silence, that I find myself thankful.
Relationships are lifelines, and there is nothing on Earth that matters more than people. Still, as an introvert, and honestly, a human being, I need more moments of silence, and less time consumed with everything else. No one is going to make space for that in my life. (Why not? Don't these people know what I need? Stop scooting your wood chair on the library floor. Please get your elbow off my body lady on the train. Let us sleep children, for the love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.)
Ugh, even as I write that, I am so annoyed. Who needs one more cliche reminder about the power of thankfulness? Exactly no one. But, repetition is the practice that helps us master new skills. So, I suppose, it bears repeating.To get our engines running, let's take a deep breath for a second. Go ahead, wherever you are. Inhale, exhale. What is an area of concern that is with you always? Is it finances, mental health, family conflict, a general sense of being annoyed? What is it for you?Another breath, my friend. Inhale, exhale. Now, what is that concern sitting on top of? Lack of security, nervousness that you will never be made well, helplessness in resolving the problem, anxiety that just won't quit? I wonder if most of our legitimate worries and concerns have one firm foundation: Fear. (Oh my friend, I so feel you.) I'm realizing something that's starting to set me free.
Living afraid suppresses gratitude.
I worry about raising young men in this world. Are we building within them a resistance to it's labels, greed, privilege, dishonesty and pain? Are we helping them to have and live out convictions, to love and respect others, to value relationships? I DON'T KNOW. They are one and four. I just need somebody to properly wipe their butt around here. Maybe I should give the worry a rest. Worry spurs me to nervous action with my boys, a general at the command center, moving knobs, pushing buttons, barking orders. Thankfulness, on the other hand, compels me to love, a person, in the presence of two amazing boys, who don't need to be controlled, but enjoyed and encouraged, taught and served. A prayer I pray, in moments like these: Thank you for this moment, hard as it is, scared as I am, and help me have the courage to be in it.
Presence is powerful.
When we are brave enough to give "right now" our whole self, we release ourselves from dwelling in the past, or missing the present, with a future that doesn't even exist yet. One thing I love about God, is that He has many names. He will be boxed in by absolutely nobody. In the Old Testament, He asks Moses to do a very hard thing, to challenge an entire political system, and Moses is like, okay bro, that's crazy, and since I am just one man, who should I tell them sent me? And God says "I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM has sent you." This is a seriously boss move. Don't tell them nothing, but I AM. They'll get it eventually, trust me. And you know what, it worked. God rained all kinds of crazy on that administration, until it finally relinquished it's assumed rights over human beings, and He brought people who loved Him into freedom. Ultimately, their fear, and unbelief, kept them out of the destiny God had for them on the other side of their bondage, but that's a story for another day.Here's what inspires me: God ain't the great I WAS or the great I WILL BE. He is the great I AM. He is not bound by space and time, yet He is with us in all things, renewing and restoring, caring and comforting, encouraging and enjoying, guiding and leading. His presence is enough. Put another way, Jesus, as He encouraged people to keep the main thing the main thing in Matthew 6, said this: "So do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble."Be right here, right now, because this is what we have. Remaining awake and alive in that truth, releases us from our concerns about the past, and our fears for the future, so we can make the most of what we have, where we are. We can't do everything to fix every worry and concern, but we can say thank you, and respond to life with love.When I agreed to an hour class at SoulCycle, there was a very compelling reason, because I had successfully avoided cardio for two years, and in general, bikes are a "no", but I so deeply desire to do something to contribute to loving and serving people. The border crisis has been keeping me up at night, and when my beautiful friend, Veronica, suggested we host a ride to raise money for the cause, I said, heck yes. During a very difficult sprint near the end, tears streamed down my face, as I began to picture, and pray for, the women I have seen reunited with their children, the kids and teens being held in cages, the little ones watching as their caregivers are arrested, patted down, and taken from them. I began to thank God for their lives, purpose, future and begged Him for their freedom and restoration. My heart was overwhelmed again with gratefulness for the life we have, for the people who drive me to my knees to avoid going crazy, for the loving kindness of a God who is enough for me, for you, for all of us.Another inhale, exhale. Our time together's ending, and as I thank God for you, a final set of questions: What are you grateful for? Who are the people? What are the spaces, resources, grace, and strength that fill you with thanksgiving? As you sit with these answers, how can they compel you toward love?
“Jesus talked to His friends a lot about how we should identify ourselves. He said it wouldn’t be what we said we believed or all the good we hoped to do someday. Nope, He said we would identify ourselves simply by how we loved people. It’s tempting to think there is more to it, but there’s not. Love isn’t something we fall into; love is someone we become.” Bob Goff, Everbody Always: Becoming Love in a World of Setbacks and Difficult People