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Three CMC members gave gratitude reflections
As I was preparing for this and thinking about what I wanted to say about gratitude, an idea kept nagging at me. At first, I thought about all the things I should say about gratitude - that being thankful keeps us thinking of the positive instead of the negative, that it boosts our mood and therefore improves our overall quality of life, that it’s important to think about things we are grateful for on a daily basis, etc. And while I believe that all these things are true, I kept coming back to this idea of gratitude being dished out in the form of guilt. Many times, when I am going through something difficult or struggling in some way, a voice in my head almost always comes to chastise me and say, “Your situation could be so much worse. Think of all the people around the world suffering with xyz. You should be grateful that your life is so good compared to others. Your struggle is so small. Get over yourself. Think of all you have to be grateful for.” And with these thoughts swimming in my head, instead of gratitude helping me to feel positive or boost my mood, it just makes me feel guilty that I’m struggling, when I have so much to be grateful for. I end up feeling sheepish or silly for even mentioning the difficulties in my life because they are so small in comparison to others.
I am a person who loves examples as a way to understand things, so I will offer you a personal example. This school year has been a struggle for me because teaching is hard. And it’s not just because of the pandemic. It’s because teaching is HARD. It’s the nature of the job. There is SO MUCH to manage all the time. Keeping track of student data and making sure they are making growth in their content areas, supporting students' social emotional needs, the Ohio teacher evaluation that consists of a 9 page rubric of expectations for teachers, preparing lesson plans, being “on” all day long, the list goes on. The pressure of all these expectations often leaves me feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and sad. Sometimes I feel guilty for these feelings. I should just be grateful that I have a stable job, good benefits, great co-workers and a home with a loving family. Other people have so much more to deal with. There is the war in Ukraine and other parts of the world, people suffering with hunger, homelessness, disease, violent or unsafe living conditions and many other things. How dare I complain about a difficult job. I should just be grateful.
So in my talk today about gratitude, I wanted to be careful not to layer it with a side of guilt or to imply that if you were just grateful for all the good things in your life, you would realize that your struggle is not really a big deal. I don’t think we need to make comparisons. Struggle is struggle and it’s real for the person experiencing it.
So although I don’t think that gratitude should be used as a guilt tactic, either in our own minds or placed upon us by others, I do think that gratitude can help us shift our thinking from focusing on the struggle, to focusing on all the things that will help us get through the struggle.
When I think about the things I’m grateful for - my family, my friends, my cat, my home, the food in my fridge, nature, books that I love to read - it doesn’t make my job situation less difficult or the struggle magically disappear, but it does help me realize that I will make it through the difficulty because I have so many supports and positives in my life. Here are a few things I am grateful for.
● I’m grateful that I have people to talk to when I’ve had a tough day.
● I’m grateful for my morning reading time that centers me and helps me through my work day.
● I’m thankful for the picture of my cat on my classroom wall that reminds me that it will all be okay because at the end of the day, I can go home and cuddle my fluffy cat.
● I am thankful for my kids and the joy they bring me.
● I am thankful for this church and the genuine, kind people that I get to see each week.
Thinking on these things that I am thankful for helps me brave each day in the classroom. It’s still hard, but I feel strengthened by the positive things around me.
Philippians 4:8 is a scripture that helps me stay in a good mind frame:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, surrounded by the people and things that give you the strength to walk through whatever difficulties or struggles you may be facing.
This morning I checked the weather in Thailand. It’s 80 degrees. I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about perfect weather today.
Why is gratitude so important? Some researchers say that 80% of human’s thoughts are negative. Our lower brain region, the brainstem, is designed to keep our bodies functioning correctly and safely. And to keep ourselves safe our brain is scanning our world for possible threats. So, on automatic, it might be fair to assume that our brains are consumed with small, here-and-now, negatively biased thoughts.
And then here comes gratitude. Choosing to see past the here and now small thoughts, choosing to see past all the possible things that could cause anxiety or be dangerous to us, and instead it is making the choice to fight what is easy and automatic for our brains. It is choosing to see the possibly good future instead.
And so maybe it’s possible that by choosing gratitude we’re choosing a thinking process that is on a higher level, instead of all of those negative thoughts that are keeping us in our lower functioning brain.
In case you don’t know, I was in Thailand for the last five years and came back to the US at the end of April, beginning of May. 6 months now.
Mature gratitude recognizes the importance of being grateful for the challenges and difficulties, not just the good. We recognize that hard things help use to grow and in this we can be grateful. And so, I tried to be honest with the good and the bad, as I came up with things that I have gratitude for.
It was hard to leave Thailand and a life that in so many ways felt idyllic. 5 years felt short, like I was just becoming accustomed to what it meant to live there. Leaving was hard, but it was right.
I am grateful that I have family in Thailand. People who I didn’t just work with, or run with, but who I did life with for the last five years. I’m grateful that I have a waffle family and that I have a pancake family. I suppose I’m grateful for carbs.
I am grateful that I had the experience to live internationally, in a completlely different culture. That I had Thai food every day, fresh fruit growing in the yard, beautiful beaches a short flight away, and no days below 50 degrees!
Transition back to the US has been difficult and in many ways still is. Life in the US is so fast, aggressive, and efficient compared to Thailand. Despite feeling like I’m always moving slow, I’m grateful that it feels like I can get things done here. Things are straightforward and understandable for me.
I’m grateful for traffic laws that are more-or-less followed, and I’m grateful for understanding the language being spoken around me. I’m grateful for Chipotle, the library, and getting to rake up the leaves that I watched change colors.
My brother came over for five minutes yesterday, to drop something off and to pick something up. I’m grateful that I have the luxury of living so close to some of my family and friends that a five minute visit isn’t a too short.
I never found a church home home in Thailand, and that was a loss. So, I am grateful to be able to be back here, with you, back in this community.
I’m gratefull to my cousin for a place to live. I’m thankful that I have a job that is rewarding and is helping me get closer to my career goals.
All things said and done I have so many good things.. Despite it being one of the harder years I’ve had in recent history, there is so much to be grateful for.
I’m looking ahead and can’t help but be excited for things to be coming. As I feel myself becoming more and more settled, more and more grounded, I feel hopeful.
Reentry-transition, or reverse culture-shock, is when you return to your “home” culture and find that it, and that you have changed in different ways. Researchers say that a general timeframe is one month of reverse culture shock for every year that you were away. Some say just count on a year. Others say that it comes a few weeks after the second time you seriously consider moving back. Sooo, I don;t know where I am in this process, but I do know even by taking the time to put these thoughts on gratitude together, I feel like I achieved another level of hominess.
In closing, I am grateful that for the first time in 5 years I am able to experience this holiday season with my family, and for the first time in 5 years be able to experience the advent season with you. Thanks.
When Joel asked me to share my thoughts on how I've experienced gratitude in the last year, my first inclination was to develop a list of specific things in 2022 for which I'm grateful, and there are many. However, I was additionally drawn to reflect on gratitude as a way of looking at and experiencing life in general. This is something I've been thinking a good deal about the last few years, inspired partly by reading Richard Rohr's daily emailed meditations and my own internal yearnings.
For some time now, I've been trying to start each day mentally expressing gratitude for just being here and the opportunity to be fully "present" to everything the day brings. I'm also trying to view each moment (or experience) as an opportunity and a gift rather than mentally and emotionally evaluating whether it's good or bad, makes me happy or sad, is something I want to embrace or something I'd rather run away from. I can't say I'm very good at it yet, but I'm embracing the challenges of learning this way of being.
My and Mary's retirement at the end of March 2022 has altered my daily routine and rituals quite a bit. The structure that had previously dictated a large portion of my waking hours (and in many ways defined who I was) was gone. To be sure this was really quite freeing and exhilarating, but also a bit unnerving … and I've discovered I'm quite good at squandering unstructured time. That said, I distinctly remember a day last May where I spent a lavish amount of time just wandering around our yard and the neighborhood, pausing for long moments to take in the incredible beauty of some flowers, the awesome magnificence of some trees. At the end of this walk, I laid down on the grass under the 100 plus year-old sycamore tree in our front yard and just looked up through the canopy of leaves into the patches of blue sky that could peek through. I was overcome with gratitude for the beauty of these common things that were around me every day. (As an aside, I hope no one walked by while I was laying there, wondering whether I was ok or in need of cpr.) Was this "squandering" my time? (Or maybe there's a good kind and bad kind of squandering?!) I'm regretting (just a little) that I didn't take more breaks to do this kind of squandering when I was heads down most of the day writing or debugging software.
Regarding the list of things for which I'm thankful that I mentioned at the start, here is a sampling.
· I'm thankful to have the means to retire from full time employment. I'm well aware that not all people are afforded that luxury.
· I’m thankful for music and its expression in numerous styles and genres. I’m also grateful for our shared experience of music every Sunday morning.
· I'm thankful to be part of a supportive church community where I can bring my raw and questioning self (all my hopes, doubts, yearnings, misgivings, gifts, failures and personal hypocrisies) to the process of seeking to know and love God, others, and myself. I know many that don't experience that in a church community and, in fact, have left the established church because they don't believe such a thing exists for them anymore.
· I'm thankful to have a network of friends and family with which to celebrate joys, share grief, and collectively process life's difficult choices and questions. Again, not all have that kind of network.
· I'm thankful for the opportunity to be "fully present" in the moments and experiences each day has to offer. In reality, my attention is often very fragmented, but the chances to get better are abundant and happen every day.
· I'm thankful for the time, means, and discerning help of others to give back to the larger community some of the blessings, encouragement, and opportunities that have been showered upon me.