Wednesday, November 28, 2012
If you've not read Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts, or visited her blog A Holy Experience...I highly recommend you do so. Like right now.
If you have, you are familiar with the term eucharisteo. A brief definition of the word is simply - thanksgiving. But it goes so much deeper than that. I'm still learning the concept but, even with a foot in the door, a newfound joy is beginning to show up in my life and... I like it.
Several years ago, Oprah did a series of shows on being grateful and encouraged her audience to keep a "grateful journal". I did it, for a while. My ADD and lack of concentration and organization kept me from being diligent with the process. But, I understood the notion of how seeing the world with appreciative eyes would bring a whole new sense of gratitude to the heart. That, if you trained your mind to look for the blessings in life, joy would naturally follow. I've always valued the quote from Abraham Lincoln, the one I learned from watching Pollyanna: "if you look for the bad in mankind hoping to find it, you surely will".
Pollyanna. Man, there was a tribute to the idea of eucharisteo if ever there was one. She didn't call it by such a fancy title but simply called it "the glad game". There is another assignment for you. Watch Pollyanna!
The idea is to always keep a thankful heart. But, how do you do that? In a world full of chaos and demands, when life is messy and our bodies are in pain...where do we find the thanksgiving?
I have a lot of ideas about this. Actually, I have a lot of ideas about a lot of things. Nevertheless, when looking for the how-to's, sometimes we have to look at the how-not-to's. I have a very strong belief that expectations get in the way of gratitude. If we keep preconceived ideas about the way things should be or expect people to behave in certain ways, we strangle out the ability to be thankful for the way things are. This requires submission. Submission to God, to others, to life. It is letting go of fighting the current of life and floating where the river takes you. When we expect things to be a certain way and (surprise surprise) things go amiss, we can only be left with resentment. We become bitter towards people who don't see things our way. We get mad at God because He is NOT cooperating with OUR plan. We become bitter and angry in our souls because, darn it, life's not fair.
And, if we really want to see life as not fair, we certainly will. We will become victims. And, the life of a victim is a sad state of affairs. Those people who see themselves as slighted or injured are very very unhappy people. I've seen, in my 40 years, people who really have had blessed lives sit around and feel sorry for themselves. And, I've witnessed people who've been dealt extremely hard blows, dust themselves off and live victorious, joy-filled lives. The key...eucharisteo.
It is so simple.
When I was still drinking, my excuses were always ones of self pity. I've been hurt, I've had a hard day, I'm stressed, frustrated, mad, and nobody understands me. I remember nights when I would drink because I was alone. "I'm alone and nobody loves me so I'll just drink until I pass out...that'll show them". Who wants that life? Every single time I feel temptation now is when I have that mindset. When I stop long enough to feel sorry for myself, a drink just seems like the right thing to do. Training your mind and your heart to see the blessings takes some time. But...it really is so so simple. It can be as easy as making it a game, like Pollyanna recommended.
Here is another idea I have about this whole thing. Bitterness is an addiction. There are some people that LOVE it! They find so much pleasure in knocking others down. I've done it myself. When you're feeling low, stepping on somebody else and pointing out their flaws gives the ego a boost and artificially comforts us for a while. Just like a drug or a drink...we become addicted to it.
So what is one to do? Where do we find joy in sorrow, light in darkness, beauty in pain? It is there. You simply have to look.
Ann Voskamp's method is to write it down. Much like Oprah's grateful journal. Ann gives each blessing a name. There is power in writing down gifts and giving them names. Her list started like this...
1. Morning shadows across the floor
2. Jam piled high on toast
3. Cry of the blue jay high in the spruce
See how simple. Everything is a gift. And, I've heard my mom say this a hundred gillion times, "the only proper response to a gift is gratitude". Gratitude comes easy to some, usually those with very little. Those who have an abundance find it harder, or so it seems. It is all in our vision. It is in what we choose to see.
I would also like to say that I have been a very resentful person. There are some that would think me hypocritical for even suggestion a life of gratitude to others. Crazy notion, the been-there-done-that person offering advice. Sort of like those alcoholics helping other alcoholics. I'm still a work in progress. I heard recently someone say "the detours in life don't really matter as long as you're headed in the right direction". I've had many many detours but am certain that my path is the right one.
Practicing eucharisteo has become my new addiction. Stopping just long enough to find the blessings in everything. A smile, a breeze, a quiet conversation, a car ride, cups of coffee, and puppy dog ears. Just a tiny tidbit of my list. It's not neatly tucked away in a journal, it is being written on my heart and sometimes on paper, sometimes blogged, sometimes texted, sometimes whispered in prayer. It is there. Right in front of me. Finding it has become a sweet distraction. If I can find heart-bursting joy in scooping up goat poop...I'm definitely heading in the right direction. My prayer is that you will find it too.