Mourning to Dancing

If God is found in our hard times, then all of life, no matter how apparently insignificant or difficult, can open us to God’s work among us.  To be grateful does not mean repressing our remembered hurts.  But as we come to God with our hurts — honestly, not superficially — something life changing can begin slowly to happen.  We discover how God is the One who invites us to healing.  We realize that any dance of celebration must weave both the sorrows and the blessings into a joyful step….

The mystery of the dance is that its movements are discovered in the mourning.  To heal is to let the Holy Spirit call me to dance, to believe again, even amid my pain, that God will orchestrate and guide my life.

We tend, however, to divide our past into good things to remember with gratitude and painful things to accept or forget.  This way of thinking, which at first glance seems quite natural, prevents us from allowing our whole past to be the source from which we live our future.  It locks us into a self-involved focus on our gain or comfort.  It becomes a way to categorize, and in a way, control.  Such an outlook becomes another attempt to avoid facing our suffering.  Once we accept this division, we develop a mentality in which we hope to collect more good memories than bad memories, more things to be glad about than things to be resentful about, more things to celebrate than to complain about.

Gratitude in its deepest sense means to live life as a gift to be received thankfully.  And true gratitude embraces all of life: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not-so-holy.  We do this because we become aware of God’s life, God’s presence in the middle of all that happens….

If mourning and dancing are part of the same movement of grace, we can be grateful for every moment we have lived.  We can claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity to Christ.  The cross, the primary symbol of our faith, invites us to see grace where there is pain; to see resurrection where there is death.  The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads to new life….

I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, “Everything is grace.”  As long as we remain resentful about things we wish had not happened, about relationships that we wish had turned out differently, mistakes we wish we had not made, part of our heart remains isolated, unable to bear fruit in the new life ahead of us.  It is a way we hold part of ourselves apart from God.

Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing:  Finding Hope in Hard Times, p. 16-19

The Best Attitude

Giving up judgmental attitudes requires that we replace them with some other attitude.  Our minds will not remain idle.  The best attitude to cultivate and the one that changes everything and everyone — you and all of the people you formerly judged — is gratitude.  Having an attitude of gratitude is what allows us to see everyone in our path as necessary and an opportunity for us to express unconditional love.  You see, judgment and love cannot coexist, and we’re expressing one or the other almost all the time.  Seldom are we indifferent to our experiences, to the people we are sharing those experiences with, and to the set of expectations we have created around those experiences.  Becoming more loving, attempting to develop the attitude of unconditional love, in fact, is the real assignment we have been given in this life.  No one can do the work for us.  No one can prevent us from doing the work.  And everyone benefits every time any one of us makes even a tiny effort to grow in our willingness to love rather than judge.

— Karen Casey, Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, p. 53-54

Being Lavish

Stinginess sits at one end of the continuum.  At the other end is the experience of being lavish.  For many of us, that word produces an instant response: Oh, I couldn’t, I shouldn’t!  But if you don’t give to yourself, how will your life become abundant?  Lavish means stepping wholeheartedly into the big middle of life, rather than just tiptoeing partway in.  Lavish means letting the flow of life move freely through you.  Lavish isn’t busy trying to control everything (that’s stingy).  Lavish is juicy, and yes, it’s messy.  It’s alive.

— Victoria Castle, The Trance of Scarcity, p. 43

A Higher Way

It is not punishment.  God never punishes.  And He well knows how you have been longing to do His will.  This sickness has been given you as a loving message to help you understand that there was a still higher and more heavenly way of reacting to the wounds and troubles that you were experiencing than you knew about.  Certainly God gave you a glorious victory even though your feelings were so wounded; you were delivered from resentment and were able to accept it all with forgiveness.  But perhaps there was a little self-pity because you did not realize about the glorious principle I have been sent to share with you.  For there is a still higher level of acceptance possible, and that is to accept everything that happens with praise, thanksgiving, and joy, knowing that every seeming affliction is really a blessing in disguise.  God allows only the very best things possible to happen to you at any particular time; that is to say, exactly the things and situations that are best fitted to help you, because they afford you the opportunity of reacting just as Jesus did.  Learning by His grace to react with praise and thanksgiving even to things that appear most evil, unjust, cruel, and deplorable, because God is allowing this opportunity to bring good out of evil, is just like waving a magic wand over an evil enchantment and being able to replace cruel spells with heavenly miracles.

— Hannah Hurnard, Eagles’ Wings to the Higher Places, p. 56-57

Miracles

It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season — like all the other seasons — is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them.

— Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal

Gratitude Makes Things Right.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.  It can turn an existence into real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Gratitude makes things right.

— Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go, p. 218

The Opposite of Resentment

Along with trust there must be gratitude — the opposite of resentment.  Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift.  My resentment tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve.  It always manifests itself in envy.

Gratitude, however, goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.  In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline.  The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice.  I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment.  It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint.  I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness.  I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly.  I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.

— Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 85