Gratitude As A Form Of Subversive Resistance
I’ll be honest. It’s been a little bit of a sucky week. It’s been one of those weeks when you might start to think that maybe you were the kind of person who has an electric current that runs through your body and breaks things. That’s what my husband says about me, anyway.
Our dishwasher broke the other day. It doesn’t get hot enough. Instead, it gets tepid, which is just warm enough to create a disgusting film of mold on the inside surface unless we run a little bleach through it after every other load. Ironically enough, the rest of my house is definitely hot, because during this, the hottest stretch of summer so far this year, our archaic central air conditioning broke, and the parts are taking days to come in. And since we (usually) have central air, what we don’t have are window units to cool down our bedrooms, which easily reach over 90 degrees every day. To top it all off with a few hundred thousand nice, shiny, copper pennies, we got tagged by the town and need to repair the sidewalk in front of our house — to the tune of almost $5000 (yes, in our town, the homeowner is responsible for sidewalk repair).
Even my electric toothbrush broke yesterday, which I need urgently, according to the dentist, for my rapidly declining gums.
Couple all this with much bigger issues: the declining health of my parents (and how they are now my responsibility), our political and social climate, and pretty much anything on the news today, and it’d be pretty easy to fall into my own personal little pit of despair. I confess, I have to work at practicing gratitude.
I started to write a Facebook post complaining about all my problems. After I wrote it, though, I erased it immediately, because it dripped of privilege and first world problems. Here, my expensive machine that washes the dishes for me is broken and oh that really expensive unit that keeps my beautiful old home comfortably cool in the heat of day isn’t working. Poor, healthy, rich, blessed me.
Now, I’m not saying that the fact these things are broken doesn’t suck. It definitely sucks. But as much as my drama-laden personality might play this all off as some solid suffering, it’s just not. I’ve been inside homeless shelters, people. I know what I got. And writing that Facebook post was all I needed to start to realize that I have a lot to be thankful for.
But even better is that my tiny little paradigm shift can be an amazing opportunity for subversive resistance to the ugliness we are all experiencing today. According to the Huffington Post, gratitude has a number of mental and physical health benefits, like a healthier heart, better resilience, stronger immunity, and a reduction in toxic emotions like envy and regret. And let’s face it — it’s easier to be a light in the world when you’re not grumpy.
That’s why individual gratitude can have global impact. The social benefits of gratitude include kinder, more social people with better marriages and deeper relationships, who also happen to have more satisfying careers. These strengthened social networks mean a higher impact and larger circle of influence — and the more people we, as Jesus Freaks, can love. And love is the one aspect of this resistance that can’t be beat.
One thing about the practice of gratitude, however, is that it can become rote. We can say the same thing over and over again: Thank you for my spouse, my kids, my home, my parents, my job. While that’s important — these are everyday blessings that deserve the recognition — it’s not quite enough to get the job done, or to transform your spiritual life.
In addition to these attitudes of gratitude, actively looking for something unusual to be thankful for can have perspective-bending results. For example, gratitude for the ants in my house (and let me tell you, I HATE when I have ants in my house) helps me appreciate the incredible detail with which God created our beautiful world, which in turn helps me remember God’s care for each of us. This helps me be my gentler, kinder self not just to the ants, but to the world in general.
A harder practice, but even more rewarding, is practicing gratitude for the challenges in our lives. I didn’t want to be thankful for the fact that the air conditioning was broken was four days during the hottest week of the summer, but when I looked for a reason to be thankful, I discovered that it got me and the kids out of the house and at the pool for all of those days, instead of chained to electronic devices for hours on end.
So here’s a small practice you can begin today — and be sure to share your results in our Facebook group.
Practice Everyday Gratitude: Say thank you (maybe even write a note!) to the people you spend every day with. Tell them what a difference they make in your life.
Thank The Things You Tolerate: Find those little annoyances — the lightbulb in the closet that won’t go on, the squeaky cabinet door, and thank them for reminding you to care for your environment, and for the service they give you.
Think Of A Person Who Drives You Crazy — and thank them (probably do this one only in your journal) for the lessons they’ve taught you about yourself, the world, and relationships.
Remember — as you practice gratitude, you’ll be a kinder, happier person and a force for good in the world. And that is the ultimate form of resistance.