Gratitude has always seemed like a scam to me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a heightened awareness of what’s wrong in the world. In the 3rd grade on the school bus, I was reading Newsweek, learning about all of the great challenges facing us. All of the wrongs that needed righted.
In the context of so much evil, feeling grateful made no sense. How could I let myself be satisfied with the unacceptable, grateful for a world in which there is so much brokenness?
Sometimes people told me I should feel grateful. Focus on all the good things you have in your life, they said. But that seemed like a cop out. Sure, there are plenty of things that are wonderful about the world, but those aren’t the things that need my attention, that need fixing.
I even saw the language of gratitude abused. I saw how those in authority could threaten those who weren’t grateful enough for the status quo. Workers who weren’t grateful for starvation wages might get fired. Activists who weren’t grateful for the military industrial complex of our country should love it or leave it.
Despite all the problems I’ve seen with gratitude, I also know that I’m in deep need of it. When I refuse to practice gratitude for all of the beauty and wonder in my life, my heart becomes hardened. Before long, I don’t have eyes to see anything but the darkness. Gratitude is essential for my spiritual health, my sense of groundedness and peace, my relationship with God.
My almost insatiable hunger for a better, truer, more just world is a God-given orientation. I’m stuck with it, and I’m to bless the world with it. But there’s no way I can sustain any kind of Spirit-led witness if I refuse to ground my critique of unjust systems in a deeper awareness of the beauty, love, and power of this life.
Is this a contradiction? How do I hold together both my sense of gratitude and my burning desire for a just and fair world? How can my deep sense of gratitude be the soil in which a prophetic challenge to this world’s darkness takes root?
Despite my concerns, I’m realizing that gratitude is and must be the foundation of all my work for justice. The very fact that I notice that there’s evil in the world, that I find it out of place and disturbing, is a sign of the underlying goodness of God’s creation. Evil is an aberration; goodness is the norm. My grateful awareness of this life that God made and called good is the basis for any challenge I might bring to the brokenness of our fallen existence.
The gratitude is there, waiting for me in the midst of disappointment and wrong. It is nourishment in the wilderness I live in. Just as the Hebrews found manna in the midst of the desert, I am fed by God in the midst of an unjust and unfair society. It is by the strength of this gratitude that I am sustained and empowered to seek a truer, more beautiful world.
I am grateful to God for the presence of his grace and power, inspiring and equipping me to take the next step in faith.