Corn flakes or All Bran? When we first moved to Italy back in 1985, this was the choice I was faced with if I wanted to buy breakfast cereal at the supermarket. It actually made choosing pretty simple, since All Bran tasted like cardboard to me.
I still remember my first trip back to the States after living in Italy for just one year. American cereal aisles (and truthfully, ALL the supermarket aisles) were overwhelming and the sheer enormity of the selection left me paralyzed. Oats, wheat, rice, corn or a blend? Sugar-frosted, chocolate, or fruity? Low fat, low sugar, low sodium, low calorie, vitamin enriched? With dried fruit, marshmallows, nuts, chocolate bits? Family size, medium size, single serving? Name brand, store brand?
I am faced with a myriad of choices every day, pleading for my attention as soon as I open my eyes: what to wear, what to eat and drink, how to respond to that first bit of information that hits me. It’s the perfect set-up for a pattern that I can so easily fall into in my thinking, in my attitude: it’s all about me. What makes me feel best and look best? What makes my life easiest and most comfortable? What advances my personal goals? That’s what I want, what I need.
When things aren’t the way I like them to be, I get grumpy, irritated, stressed. When I’m inconvenienced by a downpour at the moment I’m getting out of my car, by a co-worker calling in sick, or with something as simple as my toast getting burnt, I can easily allow my sense of peace, of joy, of stability to be rocked and ripped away,
bit by bit.
In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:8
Wait, what?! In everything? Surely, God didn’t mean EVERYTHING! I don’t feel thankful when I get soaked with rain, taking the dog out for a walk. (And why do I always forget that umbrella?!). He can’t really mean that I should feel grateful when part of our house crumbles to the ground or our motorhome breaks down in France and has to be towed back to Portugal!!
You’ve probably already figured out, as have I, that gratefulness doesn’t come to us naturally in the rough times. And our hearts don’t swell with thankfulness when we don’t feel well, don’t feel respected, comfortable or cared for.
it’s not about me.
It’s not about how I feel.
Maybe gratefulness is a choice.
I learned to choose gratefulness through being chronically ill. Yes, you read that right.
As I shared in one of my previous posts entitled I am healed, I have suffered from fibromyalgia for the past 23 years. Every morning, I have woken up in pain and feeling exhausted with that flu-like brand of exhaustion. Every single day. I don’t remember what it feels like to not be pain. Sometimes it’s less pronounced and I can choose to ignore it and get on with my schedule. Other times, I can’t even get out of bed.
For the first decade that I lived with this, I regularly dealt with the full range of emotions: frustration, anger, denial, bitterness, self-pity, desperation, hopelessness. Sure, there were still plenty of good times, moments of laughter and celebration, victories and accomplishments. But I found it so difficult to look past all that I felt – all that screamed at my mind and body to be noticed and heard and submitted to as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning.
Until a friend invited me to begin focusing on who I am rather than on how I feel. And her invitation came with a list and with verses from the Bible that speak of this identity of mine:
I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)
I am God’s temple and His Spirit lives in me. (1 Corinthians 3:16)
I am the light of the world and the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13, 14)
I am a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I am chosen and dearly loved by God. (I Thessalonians 1:4)
And the list went on and on. I AM. (Not I FEEL).
As I began to meditate on these verses and to ask God to make them real to me, to help me put aside my anger and all that I was feeling and to fully realize who I am in Him, faith began to rise up in my soul and my life began to take on a whole new perspective. Rather than constantly seeing what was lacking, what was going wrong and what was being taken from me, I began to focus on what’s been given to me so freely. Given to me by my Father, the Most Holy God who, amazingly enough, is also the Lover of my Soul.
Me. Simple, broken, often failing Maureen.
I am lavishly loved by the Creator of the Universe.
I love to say that.
I love to meditate on that.
Because honestly folks,
isn’t it beyond comprehension?!
Why has He chosen me?
Why has He chosen you?
His goodness is so unfailing.
We don’t deserve it.
Yet, it is ours for the receiving.
When the focus is taken off of me and all that I want, of all that I feel is due me, something beautiful begins to happen. That choice – to be grateful – becomes so much easier. And I will tell you in no uncertain terms: choosing gratefulness has transformed my life. Because I had never imagined – never noticed – just how much I have to be grateful for. You see, gratefulness makes a way for God’s streams to invade our wastelands. It makes a path through our wilderness.
Now, I won’t say that I am about shutting down feelings or burying emotions. And I can’t confess that I never fall into grumbling and complaining. But there’s very little room for “the uglies” when I choose gratefulness daily. And though, in the beginning, I may have needed to make that choice every moment of every day, it just keeps getting easier. It has become a way of life, breath to my very being.
My God has given me so, so much. And with all that I am, I am grateful.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up;
do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.