Cultivating a spirit of gratitude, even when things go wrong, does not mean we are happy about what has happened to us. But it does mean that when we look at all of life's events through the lens of gratitude, we can see past our current challenges.
No one escapes events in life that tear at the very fabric of our hearts, leaving us feeling lost, angry and sad. But cultivating a spirit of faith and gratitude, even in our extremities, has the power to heal our broken hearts, and bring us joy.
Finding not an end, but a different beginning
Celeste Corcoran, a hairdresser from Lowell, Massachusetts, became a double amputee when shrapnel struck her legs during the senseless and tragic Boston Marathon bombing. Lying in her hospital bed, Celeste believed she would no longer be able to do anything until a Marine Corp amputee said, "I'm telling you with all my heart that you are going to be more independent than you ever were."
After months of pain and struggle, ABC News reports that Celeste is now running, and rock climbing with assistance, doing things with her prosthetic legs that she didn't do even when she had her own legs. "I'm not going to give up," she told ABC News. "This is not the end. This is just a different beginning." Celeste did not let bitterness over life's events stop her from living her best life.
Discovering strength in the kind acts of others
Consider my friend Dawn whose husband Tony was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost one year ago. It was a devastating diagnosis for both of them. Many tears and lots of prayers later, Dawn now speaks gratefully about the small miracles that have come into their lives since the diagnosis.
She sheds tears of joy as she tells of supportive colleagues who covered for her at work; of a caring Delta flight agent, who gave her last minute flights from San Diego to Johns Hopkins hospital; of a physician friend at church, who helped during their first frightening trip to the emergency room. Having endured surgery, chemotherapy, and now beginning a round of radiation, Tony is not out of the woods yet, but he's doing amazingly well under the circumstances.
Looking at life through the lens of gratitude
Being grateful when things go wrong does not mean we are happy about what has happened to us. But it does mean that when we look at all of life's events through the lens of gratitude, we can see past our current challenges. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, pilot and religious leader, in a talk titled, "Grateful in any circumstances," tells us that being grateful in any circumstance is "not a gratitude of the lips, but of the soul. It is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind." He goes on to say that, "When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation."
Contrast the inspiring stories of Celeste and Dawn with that of my own. I spent years feeling angry and bitter over a divorce that took away only what I owned. Devastating, yes. Insurmountable, no. I found neither faith nor gratitude in my distress. What a terrible waste of time. My anger and bitterness changed nothing but me. When I finally regained my faith, and re-discovered my gratitude, my heart healed, and God opened my mind to new possibilities.
Remembering to count our blessings
In the end, cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a choice. We can choose to be thankful regardless of what our circumstances might be. Sometimes, even when our lives are going well, we forget to count our blessings. Dr. Shelly Gable, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found "positive events occur more often than negative events." Does that finding surprise us?
Finding joy in gratitude
We have many opportunities to be grateful for what we have. Our lives are not better when we limit our gratitude by focusing not on what we have, but on what we lack. As the philosopher Cicero said, "A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues." Finding ways to focus on the abundance in our lives, instead of the lack, will bring us the strength we need to overcome our challenges. We will find the joy in our lives that comes only from having a grateful heart.