I have often heard the phrase “In all things, we give thanks.” I must confess that sometimes I have silently wondered, “Really? All things?” I don’t know about anyone else, but I have been met by plenty of people and experiences where giving thanks or extending gratitude was not even on my radar screen.
It is on these occasions that I recognize the invitation to return to a thankful heart, and even more than that, a return to the consciousness of gratefulness. So for the next four weeks, my invitation to you is to join me on this journey of gratefulness, or as the title says, “The Great Fullness of Life.”
A long time ago, when I was fresh off the streets of addiction, a beloved in my life encouraged me to notice the things I was thankful for as part of the beginnings of a spiritual practice. At that time it seemed fairly easy—I had a roof over my head, I was clean, I was beginning to have friends that wanted nothing from me, and I wasn’t alone, suffering in silence.
The longer I stayed clean, the more freedom I experienced—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. However, what I hadn’t expected was that with this great freedom came great responsibility, not only for my whole life, but also for others in the world. This was my introduction to gratitude.
The longer I was in recovery, the more I could hear the ever-increasing sense of responsibility asking me to also acknowledge and give thanks for the things in life that I didn’t like, or even hated! At first I didn’t get it. So I asked a beloved who had walked this path before me, and he told me, “Kelly, gratitude is saying ‘thank you God, and let me show you what it means to me.’” I wasn’t feeling very thankful, but I decided to trust his words.
For a long time I practiced this when I found myself slipping into some form of self-centeredness. I practiced it in times of despair, anger, frustration and loneliness. What I discovered in this practice was that I couldn’t experience the freedom or fullness of life if I disliked or hated anything. In order to see life differently, I had to love what was in front of me. Once I loved something, it came to me, unfolding gently and gracefully, like a freshly ironed linen tablecloth.
It wasn’t enough to simply recognize the things in life that were easy to like, I had to embrace it all, love it all. I had to look at the things I didn’t like, appreciate them, and even take a step toward them with awe and wonder, like silently approaching a butterfly that is slowly fanning its wings on a flower. Stepping into what I didn’t like or want in life became a form of gravity that drew me into the web of all life. This is why gratitude is such a powerful and compelling tool; it reminds me of my place in this world, in the universe.
I now know that those beginning days of saying “Thank you, and let me show you what it means to me” was a commitment to action, to connect with the world outside myself. Therein lies the freedom and responsibility. Today it reminds me that whatever I do, I leave an echo in the world for all life to hear. Those echoes are moments of wholehearted belonging, where I am showing the world what my life means. Therein lies my thankfulness and gratitude.
Next week: The difference between thankfulness and gratefulness.