Looking for gratitude

GRAPHIC enter his gates w thanksgiving

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4

I drove down an Indiana highway recently, marveling at the crimsons and scarlets, the oranges and pinks and golds and yellows, the nearly-purple reds and the rich camel browns of the landscape. I almost couldn’t enjoy the magnificence because I knew it would end all too soon. With the next rain, the leaves would fall, withering and crumbling on the hard earth in preparation for winter.

As the colors awakened a joy inside me, they also stirred up something I couldn’t ignore.

Because the truth is I do not always feel grateful.

What do you want to show me, Lord?

Gratitude and beauty are tangled up together. As an artist, I am proud of my ability to observe my surroundings, to recognize God in the midst. I actively look for the Who behind the what, and because I see Him, my prayer life begins with gratitude. As I give thanks, I feel God lean nearer. I see Him more clearly.

But what about those moments when gratitude isn’t so simple? When we’re facing loss, bottling up anger, frantically performing for the world, knowing that underneath the façade we’re a mess? What do we do then? Show me, Lord.

I filled page after page of a gratitude journal with exquisite details the week I sat beside my mom’s deathbed. Desperate for the redeeming beauty. Desperate to find something to praise God for. But did I find it in the dust motes floating through the sunlight, the curves of shadows on a hardwood floor?

No. I couldn’t see it anywhere, in fact. Not for a long time afterwards.

Because gratitude isn’t shallow, and I was looking at the surface. All the while, the pain churned down deep, unable to be touched by fleeting moments of superficial beauty.

And as I prayed, “Where are you, Lord? Show me,” for a long time all I saw were the barren branches, devoid of color, clacking together in the wintry breeze.

Later, as I slowly processed those days, my eyes roaming the surface again and again, I began to see more deeply. I turned my feelings upside down, burrowing into the center of each kernel of memory—and witnessed God embedded in each moment, unable to be separated from suffering. Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. I’m sad because of how much I loved her. I miss her because of the closeness of our relationship. I’m lost because she was such a strong force in my life.

Our God isn’t shallow; most often, we find Him in the depths. Reclaiming my gratitude was about inviting Him into that place I didn’t want to be—about Him entering into the pain with me. It was about recognizing the gifts of my mom’s life, the unconditional love of my family, and finally seeing that our prayers were answered in the years she lived after her cancer diagnosis and in the shortness of her final suffering.

In these glimpses, I saw something beautiful: God’s presence embodied in each detail. My gratitude bubbled to the surface—almost against my will. Oh, Lord, thank You for what You’re showing me.

It’s easy to give thanks when the kids are staying out of trouble, you’re feeling loving towards your spouse, finances are comfortable, temptation has stopped hounding you, your family and friends are healthy, and God feels near. But whatever you’re facing, it’s worth fighting to find Him in the middle of it—because gratitude is the key to entering God’s presence. And if we look long enough at the bare branches, the piles of dried up leaves billowing in the chilly breezes, we see that winter isn’t about death at all, but about rebirth. About turning within to become more fully rooted. About getting ready to grow, about preparing for a burst of phenomenal beauty. About overflowing with gratitude for what we don’t yet see.

He loves to show us. We just have to keep looking. Yes, Lord, I want to see.

Kelly Stanley

Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she is also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She blogs at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.

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2 Comments

  1. appreciate this.

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