Is Gratitude the Great Betrayer?

Tomorrow is Lent. I am not Catholic… so I consider the practice of giving something up as a choice. But, when you delve deeper into the reasons the Catholic practice lent, it’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon. But because I am not Catholic, I have more freedom in what I choose to give up. What to give up? There is nothing obsessively corrupt in my diet — other than radishes. I could give up radishes.

Instead, though, I thought I could “add” something, conscientiously, to my life. Like, more gratitude. Everyone is talking and writing about gratitude — the magical elixir of our age.

Thinking about this more deeply, I realized that gratitude is really choosing not to complain. The art of seeing everything as a blessing. The best example of living this way is in the old Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.

So… I could give up complaining for Lent. On everything.

But what a betrayal that would be. Could I really give up my right to say that something is unjust? Wouldn’t that just make me a doormat? How could I betray myself by looking at the face of adversity and choosing to be grateful for that? Wouldn’t that just make the problem more permanent? Bigger? Larger? Isn’t that how improvement begins — with a complaint? If I stopped complaining, would I become complacent with the way things are, and, if everyone was just “happy with the way things are”, wouldn’t society just go down the drain?  Isn’t that giving the problem way too much power? Just thinking about this doesn’t really make me happy. Yet, .. all the books say gratitude is what makes your problems, magically go away. What a paradigm shift the act of graitude really would be for me. Am I really up for this? Is it just too radical?

Then, I remember that story in Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place. Her mother told her to be grateful for all things. Even the fleas in their bed in the concentration camp?  Even the fleas that bit them all night long, while they endured painful persecution. Corrie couldn’t’ be grateful for the fleas. Later they learned, that the soldiers raped the girls in the other houses– but they never went near Corrie Ten Boom’s place — the soldiers avoided the fleas there, and left those girls alone.

How could she have known? How could anyone could have known… that the fleas… gave them protection?

She couldn’t have known. And that is the point.

So, I’m going to trust all of these ancient sages — and God himself — when he said, “In all things give thanks.” He didn’t say, just the good things… he said ALL THINGS. So, if the entire thread of society of this world starts to fall apart, you’ll know why. I’m off on some radical no-complaining binge to find out if those sages are right — does gratitude really generate more happiness in the face of adversity?

4 comments to “Is Gratitude the Great Betrayer?”
  1. Great post Susie! When my kids and I discuss what one should give up for Lent, I have followed that up with “so what…” How does giving X up help your relationship with God? There are lots of answers to this and I hope my kids think about it. As Catholics, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and alsmgiving…so I am trying to focus more on those three things. I told the kids I teach in religious ed at church that if they were thinking about giving something up, maybe they could give up even 30 minutes of TV…but in my “so what” mode, I followed that up with “and use that 30 minutes to do something you don’t normally do…help your parents around the house, help your sibling with their home work, clean your room…ask your parents to read some of the Bible with you…”

    Happy Lent! We do have much to be grateful for….

  2. We had a thought provoking ‘message’ today at church about Lent too. The speaker was saying that Lent is not just a ‘diet’….the act of fasting etc itself invokes the crisis condition that bring us closer to God. I dunno….I have enough crises in my life…
    There is no mention of Lent in the Bible so I am going to go with your idea of giving thanks no matter what. Everything can be given a God ‘spin’ after all. Praise God!!!!:-)

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