I believe in living a life of gratitude. I absolutely know that it’s important to look around you and to be thankful for the things that you have.
But this is what I am learning these days in my life. I am learning that it’s important not to ignore the dark places, in place of the words “I should be thankful for…”
It’s important not to stuff the pain in the pockets of my soul because I have a beautiful family, a beautiful life and a job I love. It’s important to be able to stand, look around and say, “I really don’t like this. My heart is breaking. I am depressed. I am angry. I am so so sad. I don’t like what I am seeing or feeling.” So many times we deny ourselves the negative emotions, the emotions that are hard to face because we SHOULD be feeling much better about the world around us. We decide to “tough it out” and “man up” when we look at parts of the world that don’t have roofs over their heads or fresh water to drink or proper food to eat. We are rich, we have life easy and we are spoiled in many ways where we live. Yet still there are seasons in our lives where everything in our own tiny world is not okay. There are seasons in our lives where our hearts are aching with loneliness or heaviness. I am here to say that it’s okay to recognize that. In fact, it’s harmful for your body to ignore the pain like an enemy or throw it out the window like a piece of garbage to be disposed of later. Pain has a way of haunting you and if you won’t accept it in your emotions, it tries to come back to you in your physical body.
Why do you think that Jesus saves your every tear in a bottle? He cares passionately about your pain. He doesn’t flush it down the toilet and tell you not to bother about it. He doesn’t tell you to move on; pull up your bootstraps. He cares and your pain deeply matters to him.
Long before I had meningitis, I was leaking brain fluid through my nose and the doctors didn’t detect it. It was so bad, I couldn’t do anything with two hands. One hand did the work I needed to do while the other plugged my nose with a tissue. I had to do everything with one hand – loading the dishwasher, setting the table, making the bed. When I put my shoes on, it was crazy…
I remember crying out to God and my husband many times in desperation because I felt truly handicapped for almost a year. But I had no pain. None – my nose just ran. And I was exhausted. Truly more exhausted than I had been in all my life. But because I felt no pain, I felt so so so guilty for complaining; so guilty for being frustrated at my plight. I kept reminding myself of all the good I had in my life. I kept reminding myself of those that don’t have a quarter of what I have. And instead of feeling full of gratitude, I felt a smidgen of gratitude and full of guilt. This isn’t the purpose of the gratitude lifestyle and it isn’t what God wants.
You are not weak if you are in pain. You are human. You aren’t ungrateful if you are lonely. You are human. You aren’t whiny if you are depressed. You are human. Let yourself be human.
Recognize the season that you are in. When we have the physical season of winter, we recognize it. We have our coats and our mittens and our shovels for the snow. In the same way, we need to recognize our pain. We need to live through the season instead of ignoring it. We need to be prepared for it; armed for it even.
What does this mean for us – for you and I? How do we recognize how we are feeling? Does this mean that we get onto facebook and tell the world about every little pain and obstacle in our way?. Does it mean we complain every day about every little thing and throw ourselves a pity party?
Absolutely not. The Bible teaches about being in an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude. It also teaches us to be truly honest with where we are at in healthy ways.
There are three things that you need to make a part of your life as you navigate through your life’s winter.
1. Admit your weakness and your pain to yourself.
First of all it means that we admit it to ourselves. We admit it and we give ourselves permission to hurt. Give ourselves permission for a season of pain. Give ourselves permission to not always be helping the other guy; not always be the strong one. I have learned the hard way that we are not designed to always be the strong one; always the reliable one; always the one helping others. We need to jealously guard our own hearts and be completely honest with ourselves when we need extra self care. This is so important.
2. We admit it to God.
He knows it all anyways but somehow it just helps to talk or shout or cry. It helps to be brutally honest with Jesus even if we are mad at Him. Let’s not pretend that we can hide our feelings or thoughts. Let’s not try to be strong in front of God when we feel so weak. We aren’t in the business of earning brownie points with God. He isn’t interested in our competition of trying to be good enough, strong enough, hard working enough. He loves us no matter who we are. There is nothing more that we need to do to earn his love. Ever. Let’s put that type of harmful thinking behind us and move forward in total and complete honesty.
3. We admit it to one of our praying, non judgmental friends.
This is an important step. If you are normally a strong person, if you have been the one who has been depended upon, it is easy for us to hide behind a cloak of shame. We shouldn’t feel weak; we shouldn’t be in this difficult spot. One of the biggest ploys Satan has is for us to hide behind some kind of fake mask so that we don’t have to admit our weakness. His greatest desire is for us to be isolated and ashamed. If he can isolate us; if he can fill us with trepidation, take our friends away; take our support systems away, he has been successful in building us a prison of shame. Don’t buy into this.
If you don’t have friends that you can confide in, find them. Find them. Life was never meant to go at alone. Jesus always believed in friendship, he always believed in people shoulder to shoulder, going forward into the destiny that God has for them. Find those friends that you can journey with. Find those friends that you can trust and that love you. Then invest in them. Carve out time for them. Make them a priority.
Lastly, this is what I want you to remember most of all. Close your eyes tightly and grasp onto this truth with the deepest part of your heart. It won’t be winter forever. After the harsh winter is the breath of spring. One day you will feel the warmth of the sun dancing overhead and smell the sweetness of the flowers around you. One day you will feel the grass growing beneath your toes and hear the birds singing their love songs in the graceful trees nearby.