I’m pretty sure I never put gratitude and vulnerability in the same sentence before, but it’s been popping up over the last few weeks so I’m thinking they just may be related. Or I need to learn something about it. Maybe. Probably.
A month or so ago, I had a blog draft I was working on called Vulnerability. I didn’t get very far on it because I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. It was also coming across…..well, vulnerable. And as expressive as I am at times, putting full blown vulnerability out there was not something I was willing to do. So, I scrapped that idea and threw it in the trash. There. No more vulnerability.
Except….yep. It came up again. A few times. So I guessed there was something going on. And then on Sunday, it all kinda clicked. In church, the pastor gave the obligatory message about gratitude right before Thanksgiving. But he promised it was going to be a bit different. And it was. At least for me.
He spoke a lot about gratitude and how it changes our lives when we express it. And how our relationships with others change based on the amount of gratitude we give. Or receive. And honestly, I didn’t really think about that part before because I usually try and make a point to thank people for what they do. Especially at work. But here’s the thing I didn’t realize before – I do get irritated at people when they don’t say thank you to me. Really. I often say “you’re welcome” just to make a point. I think it’s the Philly in me, so I guess I’m making the hometown proud. But while I’m trying to “raise awareness”, I’m essentially being just as rude as they are.
So while I’m working on how I really feel about that smack in the face, let me tell you about the other thing I learned over the weekend. The pastor was talking about how we sometimes have obstacles in the way of expressing gratitude. Especially in relation to God. But think about it – sometimes we do this to people around us as well. It can be pride, or a guilt complex or a comparison situation where we don’t want to look like we’re putting ourselves out there in order to admit that someone did something nice for us. This usually happens when we’re mad at that person, not very close to them or maybe, we just simply don’t like them. (Gasp! Yeah right. Like that’s never happened to you! Haha) I’ve begrudgingly expressed thanks to people I didn’t particularly care for, even worse – people who repaid my bad attitude with kindness. Nothing like self-reflection and embarrassment all rolled into one to make you learn a lesson real quick!
The one other obstacle that got me was vulnerability. It actually stemmed from the fear of joy. How does that work? Well, think about it. If we express gratitude for something that happened and we feel joy, we ultimately have this idea in the back of our minds that it’s not going to last. Joy can be fleeting. It can come out of that one thing we’ve been waiting for or working towards, only to have something ruin it at the end. At least that’s what we think. We’re afraid to feel that joy and express that gratitude because we’re so scared it’s going to be taken away from us or that it won’t last long. What we end up doing is building defenses and not letting ourselves feel that joy. Because what’s the point of feeling it only to have it go away?
That’s the point of living people! We live for the moments of joy and gratitude in our lives. (Honestly, sometimes it makes you feel more alive). I hate feeling vulnerable because it makes me feel unprotected. Unsafe. I never thought about being afraid of joy, but there was something that resonated with me on that one. Maybe I am and I’ll have to figure that one out. Not that I’m looking forward to that. Those types of lessons should really come with a warning label.
So how does this factor into gratitude and Thanksgiving? My main point to this one is that I thought I had this gratitude thing down and I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Whether it’s with family, friends or God, practicing gratitude is something I need to do even when it makes me feel vulnerable. Or uncomfortable. Even when I would just rather not.
Our challenge is to take a look and see how much we give thanks or express gratitude to those around us. Even when it hurts. Even when we’re fighting battles. Even when it’s the first – or yet another – holiday without a beloved one. It’s not always easy and it may make you feel guilt or vulnerability or even pride, but I’m willing to bet you won’t be sorry that you did. Not only will you feel better, but your family member, friend or coworker will be glad that you did as well. I’m not pretending that your life is rosy and you’re not the best of friends with your significant other or kids or friends or your Great Aunt Sally. Not everyone’s life is easy or plainly defined. Or even happy. I get that. It can get dark sometimes. And the last thing we think of when we’re in that dark place is to be thankful.
Call me optimistic, but I believe every little thanks brings another ray of light into that place. We just have to lift our heads up and open ourselves up to the vulnerability of thanking others for something they took the time out to do for us. If theory proves correctly, it will further connect us with those we’re thanking. Especially if they’re the ones who remind us to bring stretchy pants to Thanksgiving dinner.
Enjoy everyone – Happy Thanksgiving!