I have a love/hate relationship with gratitude. I understand how important it is to be grateful for all the big and little things in life. If you just Google “the benefits of gratitude,” you will find hundreds of websites, articles, YouTube videos, and blogs on how gratitude can improve mental and physical health, enhance relationships, increase self-esteem, improve sleep, and lower depression and anxiety.
Gratitude’s biggest benefit, in my mind, is that it makes us notice all the moments, tangible and intangible gifts, and people that we come in contact with every day. It allows us to slow down and pay attention to our living and not just doing. Being able to fully live in each moment invites us to take deeper breaths and creates a new appreciation for the many gifts of life. It renews our relationship with ourselves, others, and God.
Here is the part I struggle with: In the last few years, gratitude became a buzzword. We have gotten hold of gratitude as something to cure all our ills—possibly because gratitude has so many beneficial effects. Are you having trouble sleeping? Count your blessings! Are you anxious or depressed about something? Look at all the good things in your life. #Blessed has become an overused hashtag on social media, where it could be accompanying any picture.
The problem with gratitude is that is has become, in many cases, a platitude for how we deal with suffering and pain. Kate Bowler, a theologian and writer, says that “gratitude feels like a cheerier way of saying: Well, at least….” At least you have your health, at least you can have more children, at least your family member didn’t suffer for very long, at least you have a roof over your head, at least… fill in the blank. Look at the bright side and find the silver lining are also cultural platitudes that we offer to one another during tough times.
As Maryanne was saying in our previous blog, sometimes gratitude is hard to find—suffering by its nature is not a place of gratitude, and hearing from well-meaning people that we need to be grateful in a tough situation feels like a denial of pain and suffering.
So what do we do with gratitude in a time of suffering? First of all, don’t ask yourself or anyone else who is going through a hard time to be grateful, look at the bright side, or find the silver lining. Just be honest about your feelings with those whom you know won’t talk you out of how you feel. Become that trustworthy person for someone else by lending your ear to them.
It is no surprise that emotional honesty also has great benefits, very similar to those of gratitude: reduced depression and anxiety; increased connection with ourselves, others, and God; greater resilience; lowered blood pressure. Sound familiar? Maybe #emotionalhonesty will be the new buzzword!
Gratitude still has its place in times of suffering, but we cannot force gratitude to be the cure. When a hurting person cannot find anything to be grateful for, give them room to heal and be honest, trusting that God’s healing comes at its own time. The rays of gratitude will break through the darkness, if the person is allowed to walk through the dark night feeling all their pain. The key to their healing is not to be walking this dark path alone. There will come a time when they will be able to find rest in newly found gratitude for all the blessings they have received along the path.
Have you had someone tell you to be grateful and look on the bright side when you were suffering? How did that make you feel?
How can you be a listening ear to a hurting person?
Watch Kate Bowler talk about gratitude here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CQ9en-TtbSm/?mc_cid=57b1ff9c31&mc_eid=aa37a817c5