I’m writing this post in the wee hours of the morning after another sleepless night. Sometimes, in the quiet still of my restless nights, I step back and survey my life, and I realize that the landscape of my life doesn’t look anything like I expected. When I was younger and would picture mine and Larry’s middle years, those frames held visions of children and grandchildren. Perhaps Larry would take an early retirement, and we’d go on a mission. The reality is, there isn’t one thing in our middle years that even closely resembles those snapshots that I had framed in my head. This is hard, because I liked the life I had pictured for myself. I thought it was cool. Letting go of those pictures means some mourning, and because each new decade offers different but unfamiliar pictures, that grief never really goes away. It just changes, and I get better at living with it.
I don’t know why my vision has had to focus on a different landscape than most of my peers or why I’m not blessed to live in the terrain I had envisioned. I suppose there will come a time when the reason and the purpose will be known to me. In the meantime, I have some choices to make, and one of those choices is to be grateful…or not.
In one of our Sunday classes in church, we talked about learning to be grateful in our circumstances instead of for our circumstances. During this class discussion, I mentioned that I hate school. I didn’t go into the details, and I won’t do that here, either. I’ll just say that school is a very big part of my current landscape, and it’s hard to get up every morning and face something I hate. And yet, every morning and night, when I say my prayers, I thank the Lord for the gift of being able to attend school.
I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m grateful to Larry, who works overtime in order to pay for tuition in the midst of financial hardship. I’m grateful he has a job that even offers these possibilities, and I see how this is linked to his education. My gratitude branches out from there as I recognize the sacrifice his parents and extended family made so he could go to school. Their sacrifice is making my education possible. I’m grateful for the small scholarships I’ve received in the past to help lessen this burden. I’m grateful for what my education is offering me now, both on an academic level but maybe more importantly, on a life level, where I’m discovering a new found confidence and strength on which I continue to build in spite of my hatred for the process that is offering me these very things. This is simply built into the process because it’s hard. So, in the end, and in a round about way, I’m grateful for the hardship.
To me, this is what it means to be grateful in my circumstances; to be able to slog through whatever difficulty I’m in the middle of and be grateful for what it’s offering me, even if it doesn’t look like anything I had envisioned.
If I were a betting woman, I’d bet each of us has something that looks very different from what we had originally pictured; something we don’t like. After all, isn’t life one big school? Aren’t there experiences that don’t even remotely resemble what we had pictured, but we practice gratitude just the same? That gratitude—the ability to be grateful in any circumstance—is the warm light that can infuse each snapshot, regardless of the lack of recognition of the landscape. It can help us see the beauty among the unfamiliar. Then, perhaps someday, when we’re blessed to see the whole picture, that same gratitude will aid in our understanding.