In February last year, the church I had been attending for three years decided that it wasn’t worth the bother to train their new lighting technicians to set up the lighting so it wouldn’t be a potential trigger for my epileptic seizures. I walked out of the meeting with a smiley face (because that’s what you do, or else they won’t let you go) and I sat in my car and cried. And then I said, “Well, at least God still loves me”, and drove home, tears rolling down my cheeks and dripping onto my clothes.
I am not grateful for that experience. I am not even grateful for the lessons that I earned from that experience. I could really do without having that level of betrayal in my memory bank.
There’s a school of thought in certain Christian (or quasi-Christian) circles, that you need to be grateful for everything – even the bad things. That if you can show God how grateful you are for everything, that somehow makes you more worthy, more holy, and therefore He has to bless you. So gratitude for everything is basically a way to get God to give you stuff. And we all want the stuff.
But there’s a big difference between being grateful for something, being grateful in something. (My English teacher was right – prepositions are useful!)
Back in February, March, April of last year, when my heart was bruised and I honestly never wanted to darken the doorway of a church building again, I was grateful for other things. Not for the hurt and betrayal, but for a God that still loved me. And then, for a God that still loved the ones that did this thing. And being thankful for a God that loves was key to my ability to move forward. It gave me a focus for my own spiritual journey. It enabled forgiveness. It gave me courage.
There is a certain kind of gratitude that walks hand in hand with faith, a gratitude for something bigger than yourself, and your own small life on this earth. It’s a robust sort of gratitude, that doesn’t rely on warm feelings and sunny days. It’s a proactive remembering of what you believe in, and being thankful that it matters to you.
So when bad things happen, it’s alright not to be grateful for them. When bad things happen, you have nothing to prove – being grateful for the thing doesn’t make you a better person. Sometimes not being grateful for thing makes you more honest, and that has to be a better way to start the journey.
When bad things happen, sometimes you just have to decide that you will find a way to be grateful for something. Anything. Even a God who loves you.