When Gratitude Feels Like Bullshit

“Why do you always park over here?” He slammed the door as he got in the car. “What are you, stupid?”

A while ago, I was living with a friend who had a 15-year-old boy; I’d often pick him up from school when she was working. I actually love this kid, so I took a breath and corrected: “Thank you, Leslie, for picking me up from school.”

He rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Leslie for doing what any idiot could do.”

I repeated my sentence, keeping the car in park.

He crossed his arms, sighed heavily, and kicked his bag deeper into the floor. He took a breath and muttered: “Thank you for picking me up.”

As he said this, he gave me a sideways look. I smiled, then he smiled, and his body relaxed. I started the car and we drove home, chatting about the Legend of Zelda.

During November, I see a lot of articles about gratitude in church newsletters and wellness sites. They often make me roll my eyes a little.

I imagine the writers are all attractive young women in yoga pants, feeding kale to buttery-colored unicorns.

At a base level, I’m still something of a sullen Gen X-er, always ready to privilege cool and self-destructive over earnest and life-giving. (Ugh: the term “life-giving.”)

I remember when my spiritual guide first suggested I do a daily gratitude list. I told her it was bullshit, that I didn’t feel grateful about anything. She said to do it anyway. She said gratitude was an action, not just a feeling. She said I could even do it with an attitude, through clenched teeth if necessary, e.g. “Thank you for whatever that jerk is teaching me.”

I remember doing that, and then, as it became a daily practice, slowly softening. It was a practice that opened my heart and freed me from the anger I felt all the time.

Once I did that, it changed how I moved in the world – allowing me to do my work without being clenched and reactive. This in turn, allowed other people the grace to do the same. It still saves me from burn out and allows me to take care of myself, and others, in difficult times.

Practicing gratitude makes me a better person and frees me from the trivial crap that occupies my brain. It reorients my spirit towards compassion, and opens a place for grace to enter my life.

Pass me the kale.

IMG_4719Rev. Leslie Leasure is the curator of the Into the Wilderness Community (itwcommunity.org) Join our daily gratitude FB page to share your daily gratitude list during the month of November…it’s not too late to start!

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