Suffering and Small Things and Gratitude

When it comes right down to it, I am amazingly, ridiculously, wonderfully blessed. Beyond measure. Beyond counting. Beyond my ability to comprehend it. Spiritually, physically, emotionally, materially – I have not known want. I have what I need and more. Through nothing of my own doing, through none of my own merits or my own qualifications, I have been given so much, and I don’t know why I get to live this life I get to live.

Of course, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. I’ve experienced pain. The kind of pain that makes you feel as though your heart has been torn to shreds, that brings great, shuddering, horrendous sobs that leave you gasping for air, that turns the world into a dark and hostile and forbidding place. But still. Even in the midst of such sorrow, even through the very worst of it, I was blessed. By a solid foundation of faith and of love and of support. By people who were there, crying with me, holding me, praying for me every step of the way. By a marriage that only grew stronger through the fire. During the darkest time in my life to date, there was still hope, and love, and life. I can see that now, in retrospect.

Just a few weeks after we lost our daughter, I had lunch with a friend who was unexpectedly and tragically widowed a little over a year ago. We laughed and we cried together, commiserated about the kinds of ridiculous things we well-meaning Christians like to say to the bereaved. She told me, towards the end of our conversation, about how she’d had such a hard time praying, such a hard time finding ways to be grateful in the period following her husband’s death. How for months, she didn’t read her bible, couldn’t listen to worship music, was unable to talk to God without pain and questioning and anger. This didn’t surprise me (though it did reassure me – her faith is much stronger than my own, and so it was encouraging to know these reactions are normal among even the greatest of saints), but how she pulled out of it, how she began to see hope and life and light again, did. She told me it was the small things, the tiny blessings, the everyday occurrences, that did it for her. She started by thanking God for the sunshine, for a bird singing, for a flower growing in her front yard. And, so close to my own loss, still in the depths of my own pain, it seemed so incongruous, so impossible to me. How could she thank Him for those things when He hadn’t intervened to save her husband’s life?

Here’s the truth: there are days when the small things – the choosing this moment kind of things – seem so trite and silly and naive in the face of the pain and sorrow and brokenness in this world. When compared to desperate poverty, or tragic loss, or systemic abuse and oppression, or so many other dark and ugly things that happen on this planet, it seems almost a mockery, a farce to see blessings in a long walk or a beautiful sunset or a starry night. And yet, for me, as for her, these things paradoxically started me on the path toward gratitude again. When I could not talk to God about my daughter without tears and anger, when the only question I was able to ask was a screamed why with fists clenched tight, when I thought I had no reason to pray, no reason to thank Him, this was where I began. With acknowledgement of a smile, of a pretty day, of the moon shining through the trees. And eventually, ever so slowly, it led to more. It’s still a process, of course, and I still cry out my whys (and probably will until the day I die), but somehow, the everyday blessings have brought me back.

I do not understand this, for even now, it seems ridiculous and impossible and out-of-touch with the suffering in this world to look for the joy in the small things, especially when my own life is so very blessed. It could be said that it is easy to see God’s hand in the sunshine when you have enough to eat, when you are healthy and whole, when you haven’t suffered the way that so many do, and I cannot disagree. In the midst of sorrow, gratitude seems downright impossible.

And yet, somehow, even though I do not understand it, even though it sometimes seem trite, I believe this is what I am called to do – to find a way to be grateful, no matter where I find myself. Not for my circumstances, perhaps, but in spite of them. To find joy in the simple pleasures, to remind myself of how very blessed I am, to not take one good thing for granted.

3 response to "Suffering and Small Things and Gratitude"

  1. By: Amber Posted: December 21, 2013

    I’m glad to see you blogging again, Jenn!

  2. By: Addie Zierman Posted: August 4, 2014

    This is so beautiful. I love how you admit the reality of the pain and the small, small ways that you are being led out of it toward something new. So, so good. Thanks for sharing!

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