Lately, I’ve had a hard time with gratitude. Not because I can’t think of anything to be grateful for. That may have been the case at some points for me, but not now. Now, there are two other things that pop up when I start to practice gratitude.
One, is that as soon as I acknowledge something I am grateful for, I am often hit with the knowledge that this thing that I am so deeply grateful for is something someone else doesn’t have and is longing for. A warm home, a family, a running car, running water. And I struggle to actually feel grateful and not feel despair that there is so much hurt and need out there. I have a hard time feeling like it’s okay to feel grateful. I almost feel ashamed of what I have.
And the other side of of the coin is that I feel afraid to say I’m grateful for less than what I hope for. To say I am grateful for my job when really there are so many things that I want to be different about my work life – I feel like saying I’m grateful for what I do have waives my right to hope for or try for more.
And so, I either have too much, or not enough. Or both. Probably both.
I know that there’s not a cap on hope. And yet, I fear that there is. Fear is a liar, remember? Like, no one gets to a certain point in their life where God is like “Yep, that’s it, you’ve got it all, no hoping for more for you“. I don’t just mean hoping for the tangible things. I mean that hope that your whole soul hangs upon. The thing is though, since we are in this tangible world, in these tangible bodies, often our hopes do involve tangible things. Even, and sometimes especially, those soul-deep hopes. But when I’m fearful of acknowledging the good things in my life because I believe it means I am forfeiting the right to hope for more, I miss out on the joy and satisfaction that comes with gratitude. And I essentially waste an opportunity to allow for what I have now to be used as a building block for what I hope for.
I heard someone say once, in regards to privilege, that they don’t want people to “check” their privilege, but to use it. “Checking” my privilege and then feeling shame or despair about what I have versus what someone else has doesn’t actually do anything except for make me miserable.
Both paths steer me away from what the practice of gratitude actually has the power to do.
And so, I need to redirect.
Maybe I’m not the only one. This time of year, gratitude can feel forced and can even come off trite. But the practice of gratitude can be so much more.
It doesn’t steal your right or your ability to hope for more. It does open you to seeing more. And maybe to being more. Being more present, more mindful, more powerful, more generous, more kind, and more grateful.
It’s not something to be ashamed of. It is something to build from. It is something to give from. It is something to find encouragement and replenishment in.
The truth is, everyone can practice gratitude and has things to feel grateful for. Even people who are longing for more. So, I don’t need to despair for someone, for anyone, who’s longing list looks like my gratitude list. Because who’s to say that my longing list doesn’t look like their gratitude list? It’s true that I may have what someone else longs for, but they may have what I long for too.
And so my two struggles collide. Too much and not enough. The tangible and the intangible. Hope and despair. Isn’t gratitude somewhere in the middle ground there?
Maybe when I feel like I have too much, I can think of what I can give. Maybe, when I feel like I don’t have enough, I can think about how hope can build on what I do have. Maybe they call it practicing gratitude because it does take practice. And maybe practice won’t make perfect, but maybe it will make the plenty that is before me just enough.