Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thinking About Gratitude

Starting from the opposite.

I ran across this quote when pondering gratitude for this week:

Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.
--Joseph Stalin
What a horrible statement!

NoFeedI wanted to hope it was a mistranslation from the Russian, but I doubt that it is. It is a sad and scary look into the dead soul of Joseph Stalin, one of the madmen, murderers, despots, and dictators that define those words. He took a whole nation and turned it into a lifeless place. He took the Soviet Union and made it a continent-wide concentration camp of fear and death.

And he didn't know what or how gratitude was. It was a disease, an illness, that is suffered by those less than human. True humans (like him?!?) would not be dragged down by such an emotion as gratitude.

Suddenly you realize the importance of gratitude. It isn't something for one thankful day of the year. It is deeper and more profound. It is not a sickly-sweet pox on life. It is the source of a life that can matter.

Because it puts us into a proper perspective. It helps us become aware that the world does not revolve around us, but that we are part of something else. To a Stalin or Hitler or Idi Amin that would be the worst thought to consider. THEY were in charge. THEY had absolute power. THEY were the center of everything and if you didn't believe it, they would show you. I wouldn't be surprised if they looked into the heavens  and got angry that they weren't able to change the orbit of the earth. But give them a chance, they most surely must have thought, and they would figure that out or destroy the world trying.

I have never been so challenged to look at gratitude that way until I found that Stalin quote. I have known the power and necessity of gratitude for years. I have fallen into awe and wonder when I think about what I have been blessed with. How can I not develop gratitude?

But what about those who haven't been as fortunate as I have? What would happen if I lost all that in a moment of catastrophe? Would I still be grateful?

An unanswerable question, of course, but one that has been at the heart of great story and literature. My mind naturally turns to the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. He had it all- and lost it all. Would he still bless the name of the Lord? Would be still be faithful? Would he still have the seed of gratitude within him to grow again?

Leaving aside all the theological wanderings of the book, I come to one simple passage, often read out of context (I believe) and with a sweet-triumphalism.

The Lord gives;
The Lord takes away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord!

How do you read that? Job standing there defiantly stating faith, unwilling to be turned away as even his wife wants him to?

I don't think so. That would deny Job's own humanity and make the rest of the book superfluous. Read it another way.

Put your teeth together. Clench them. Fight against every bone in your body that wants to damn God and turn the other way. With every ounce of courage, through those angry, clenched teeth, hear those words again:

The..... Lord..... gives;
The.........Lord........ takes...........away!
 Hear the voice turn to a pained and painfully harsh whisper, barely heard above the silence:

................the name..................
Such is the foundation of gratitude and the result of being grateful. It is not a question of

"Why me?"

when things are going bad. It is also asking the same when things are going good.

And the answer is always the same....


It is all we have. Unless we can find gratitude in each day, we will not be able to find the other essentials of a fulfilled and happy life. Serenity will elude us. Acceptance will seem like hogwash. Compassion will be self-serving. And meaning? It will only be what I can get out of life.

Gratitude. In all things, gratitude. Not gratitude for what is, in spite of what isn't, or to get anything as a reward.

Just being grateful because what is, is!

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