i am the Schwarzenneger of gratitude

Posted: April 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

If gratitude manifested as an actual physical muscle, today I’d be built like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.  This would not be due to being born a mesomorph body type, predisposed to athletic muscularity (spiritually I am just as I am physically, all round curves and softness, endomorph all the way), but due to many long years of doing the reps daily and faithfully – lift and lift and increase the weight and lift some more.  You give me a situation and I can dig a list of reasons to be sincerely grateful from it, no matter how bleak it may seem.

That wasn’t born from comfort.  I didn’t find the will to exercise gratitude from a place of having everything I wanted and thought I needed at the time.  The birthplace of gratitude for me was desperation – in the midst of a storm of codependence with the squall screaming so loud around me that I felt like I wasn’t going to make it through, someone wise gave me this rope to hold on to:  write down daily what you are grateful for, and share it with others.

It seemed like too much to ask at the time.  I had too much going on to make time for writing a list.  If I remember right, I was to come up with a minimum of 3 – 5 things; many days I struggled long to come up with the first.  I had heard Oprah say that when you feel that way, you should start with gratitude that you are still breathing and your heart is still beating – but what if I wasn’t grateful to be breathing?   What if it felt like my heart was betraying me by still beating?  What if I wished I was home with Jesus, beyond the reach of all the pain on this planet?  It really seemed like too much to ask.

I followed the directive really only because I was desperate and it was an assignment from my 12-step sponsor.  Desperation is a gift that helps many a person work the 12 steps; many who aren’t yet desperate won’t even discuss starting them, or they’ll stall out as soon as it gets uncomfortable.  We want comfort, but comfort is NOT a gift, where it keeps us from seeking real health and healing.  Desperation can be your very best friend; for sure it was mine and I am grateful for the way it drove me to work the steps and not just continue to muddle through life.

Intentional gratitude is a bigger, more important tool than most seem to acknowledge or understand.  For me it’s been a life-changer – it has literally changed who I am – and if you’ve been around the blog very long maybe you’re tired of me saying that.  Be tired of it.  I’m gonna keep pushing it as long as I’m able to express myself in any form at all.  It works slowly over time, which can make it seem like it’s bringing no progress at all, which I suppose is why most who try it end up casting it aside before it gets a chance to build a beautiful muscle that will flex and add real power for them.

This morning, like so many other mornings, I woke up grateful for the 15 years that I lived single and celibate as an adult.  A lot of that time was hard.  It was not my preference to go to bed alone at night and not my desire to wake up alone in the morning.  It was not MY best plan to walk out celibacy for that long – I happen to think sex is one of the greatest, most precious and enjoyable gifts God has given us.  It was lonely much of the time.  It was always tempting to just give up and try my way again, and had my way not caused such a crash and burn in my life and in the lives of others I cared about, maybe I would have.  But – again – I was desperate.  So desperate that I was willing to do things the way God had spelled out.  Willing to give His method a try.  Countless times I only managed it by the skin of my teeth – by telling myself that maybe tomorrow I’d give up and go get me some company and human touch, but for today I’d stick with the plan.

Now every morning I wake up flooded with gratitude as G reaches for me and I open my eyes and see – he’s really there.  Really right beside me.  And he’s all the things I was asking God for, all that time, and he’s SO MUCH MORE than all those things – a major point of gratitude for me is that God didn’t limit himself to what I was asking for, when He gave me G.  I would swear he was custom-built for me and none other.

Here’s what I know, from real experience:  had I not been made to wait all those years, wondering if such a person even existed, my gratitude for him would not still be this enormous 3 years into the marriage.  Some will scoff – you’re practically still newlyweds! – and all I’ll say to that is I know a lot of marriages 3 years in that are not grounds of wonder and gratitude.  A LOT.  Our preset way as human beings is to take things – including one another – for granted.  Entitlement attitude is what we do, unless and until something breaks that.  We don’t appreciate what we have because we think it is owed to us anyway, because we think it’s just how life works, because we have what we expected to have, so we are free to be critical and ungrateful about it rather than investing ourselves, rather than intentionally, daily treasuring it.

Intentional gratitude is not just the making of a list.  To get his uber-bod, The Arnold in his prime did more than just lift weights.  He had to pay careful attention to what he ingested – he couldn’t live on donuts for breakfast and a supersized Big Mac meal for lunch and chips with nacho cheese for supper.  Similarly, for the care and feeding of my gratitude muscle, I have to carefully select what I take into my soul and spirit.  I have to read and meditate on things that build my gratitude.  I have to avoid the “junk food” of thoughts and attitudes that would work against it.  I have to keep myself in active service to others.  (Did you not know that builds gratitude?  Oh.  It DOES.)  It’s a whole-life approach, not just writing 3 – 5 things down each morning and then living/being whatever I feel like for the rest of the day.  It’s intentional.  It’s repetitive.  It’s a cultivation.  It’s a choice, and a choice, and yet another choice, endlessly.

Those without a strong gratitude muscle can underestimate the power of that muscle in a life.  Some dismiss it altogether.  Some think that we grateful people just settle for less, just live smaller, lamer lives and that they are giants, titans who just need more and shouldn’t be expected to lower their expectations.  I’ve heard the argument too many times to count.  I can’t help but notice that the ones making that argument are MISERABLE and can’t find access to joy, most of the time.  They have a tiny, flaccid, useless, degenerated gratitude muscle and they don’t understand the power available to them for finding joy if they’d stop trying to get their needs met and get busy being grateful.

I feel funny writing about gratitude this way – to say I’m the Arnold Schwarzenegger of gratitude certainly sounds braggadocious.  If it sounds like that, it’s not my intention.

Gratitude saved my life and has continually changed it since then.

Gratitude means I wake up at the stupid hour of 3 AM with my heart swelling with gladness at G next to me, and am undone by it more mornings than not.

It allows me to navigate our differences without letting them be a problem.

It brings me wonder everywhere I go, all the time, even when things are hard.

If you don’t “get” gratitude yet, it might look like some kind of pollyanna bullshit to you, and  if so I just want to help you understand:  you’re seeing it wrong.  Pick up this tool.  Let it save you from despair and bitterness.  Let it add color to your life.

You’re never going to get your needs met by chasing getting your needs met.  When you lay your needs down and focus on gratitude, you’ll be astonished to find that your needs got met along the way, while you weren’t tending them so closely.

Build that gratitude muscle.  Do it for more than a few days.  Keep doing it even when it seems like it’s not bringing the miracle results I describe here.  You won’t regret it.

You won’t.

  1. Sheina Renée says:

    I SO desperately need to get back to this practice. I know it has made a difference in my life in the past and there are things right now that are a mess in my life and practicing gratitude would help me SO much. Thanks for always encouraging me to do this. Even though I haven’t been sending gratitude emails, getting yours always reminds me.

  2. Shane hutchinson says:

    Karen this post hit home. I’ve got to get back to practicing Gratitude. Thank you for sharing so honestly.

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