Today I’m preaching to myself. My feelings are all sorts of loud and I desperately want to listen to them. But I know that the truth doesn’t always match my loud emotions, and today is one of those days. I feel the Holy Spirit whispering truth to my heart, and I know his is the path I want to walk in.
I’ve always tended to be a glass-half-full kind of girl. Growing up it never felt terribly hard to see the good in something or to find something to appreciate about what was happening. Where most kids may have seen a new sibling to divide their parents’ attention, I saw a new living, breathing playmate who was infinitely better than a stuffed animal. Where most kids may have seen strict rules about television or movies, I saw a library full of books that I was desperate to read. Where most kids may have seen three younger brothers as a bother and a nuisance, I saw three fun playmates/cooking buddies/circus performers/fellow explorers/pirates.
But in the last few years, I’ve found my glass a little more empty than those growing up years. Never before had I struggled to look for what was good. When Jesus asked me not to pursue grad school, I had trouble seeing anything beyond my last chance at furthering my education slipping away. When I saw two lines on a pregnancy test, I had trouble seeing anything but sleepless nights and no more date nights and another transition to add to my growing pile. When Jesus asked me to move across the country, I had trouble seeing anything but the loss of family and friends, the grief of saying goodbye to many comforts and people that I held dear.
I knew how to be grateful when my thankful thoughts flowed into my head without even trying. That was effortless. It felt like something about me was broken for that grateful valve to feel shut off. I knew pretending to be happy wasn’t the answer, but what was? Did being grateful even count when you had to work for it?
Confession: I have no idea what day of Lent we are on. I know it probably isn’t that hard to figure out, and since Easter is right around the corner, I guarantee I’m behind in my Lent book. But I’m trying to be present and soak in truth, instead of rushing through in order to make a deadline. I’ve done too much of that in the past. I’m working to turn off the part of my brain that specializes in lists and checking things off and accomplishments in order to let truth have a chance to seep into my heart.
As I’m slowing my heart to listen, I’m sitting with some of the parables Jesus told in the days before his crucifixion. I’m trying to take Alicia Britt Chole’s challenge to ask the Holy Spirit to show me who I am in the story. The other day, I read the parable of the two sons. One is quick to offer help but doesn’t follow through. The other son initially says he won’t help, but ends up doing the work anyway.
One says yes but lives a no. The other says no but lives a yes. As I sat with this story, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart.
You think words are loudest, but I see your actions. I see what you choose even when you don’t feel like it. I see when you don’t let your feelings rule you. It counts when you don’t feel it, but you choose to act anyway.
God’s love language is not words alone. We can talk all we want, but at the end of the day, we will also be judged by what we did. (40 Days of Decrease, 98)
I want my feelings and actions to match. When they don’t, it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. But I think the Lord is teaching my heart that just the opposite is true. Actions count for more than feelings. Feeling a no, but living a yes counts.
When I want to stay home from youth group, but choose to go anyway, I am living a yes.
When I want to hop on social media, but choose to read my Bible and sit with the Lord, I am living a yes.
When I want to read a book or watch a movie, but choose to do the work of writing, I am living a yes.
When I want to complain about the hard, but choose to say thank you, I am living a yes.
When I want to have a full blown pity party, but choose to invite people into the mess and ask for prayer, I am living a yes.
The feelings don’t have to be there to live a yes.
I think I had the wrong idea about gratitude. I drew my conclusion based on my experience of how easy it felt growing up. I believed that gratitude was something for me to conjure up. And because it was easy to be grateful, I unknowingly gave myself credit for “being good at being grateful.” But as gratitude got harder, I thought something was wrong with me. I felt less myself. But I don’t think there was something wrong with me. I think I was simply feeling a no, and facing the choice of whether or not I would live a yes.
I think Jesus has been whispering to my heart that gratitude isn’t about feelings. Gratitude sometimes reflects feelings, but sometimes it is a choice I make when I don’t feel it. Gratitude isn’t something that I can muster on my own, at least not the way it seemed to work in the past.
From Jesus’ example, it is clear that a misalignment between our desires and God’s will is not sin. Jesus was victorious not because he lacked uncooperative feelings, but because he affirmed and reaffirmed his commitment to honor his Father’s will above his emotions. (40 Days of Decrease, 127)
Gratitude isn’t about how I feel.
Gratitude is acknowledging grace.
Gratitude in itself is a grace.
And grace isn’t something I’m earning or deserving.
It is simply a gift, a gift from Jesus.
When it comes easy, it is a gift.
When it comes with work and surrender, it is a gift.
When the feelings match, it is a gift.
When the feelings don’t match, it is still a gift.
Gratitude reminds me of who I am. It tells me that I am given things I don’t deserve by a good God. It tells me that I am weak and needy and underserving. It tells me that I can feel a no, but live a yes. It tells me that I am loved and seen by my Father.
I used to think gratitude meant the most when it flowed naturally and freely and now I think that gratitude means just as much when it is chosen as an act of surrender.
Gratitude is a grace and a reflection of grace.
Gratitude is living a yes when I feel a no.
Gratitude is opening up my hands and saying, “Thank you for the grace.”