Gratitude...

Send some rain, would You send some rain?
'Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade
Would You send a cloud, thunder long and loud?
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down
Surely You can see that we are thirsty and afraid
But maybe not, not today
Maybe You'll provide in other ways
And if that's the case...

The Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/general-holiday season can be hard for many. Since Nanny died in 2011, I've had a difficult time with the season myself. This year, for whatever reason, was specifically hard. I've cried more than usual. I've been sadder than I have in past years. And working at the hospital, I've felt heavier than before. Sure my faith has strengthened and deepened since I arrived, but I've also seen more pain, tragedy, and heartache than I typically do at this time of year.

Going through a friend's Facebook page recently, I came across a video of him singing this song from Nichole Nordeman, "Gratitude," the lyrics of which are the accent quotes throughout this post. I've always been a fan of her music and her voice. And I love hearing this specific friend sing — I've been blessed enough to sing with him on a few occasions. But on this particular day, hearing this particular song, I couldn't help but get upset. I couldn't help but feel angry, almost enraged, I couldn't help but cry.

We'll give thanks to You
With gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for You
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If You never send us rain

Working as a chaplain, I see so many people who say something along the lines of "It's not God's fault" or "It's not right for me to get angry with God." Instead they contend that God's will is not to be argued with and that God always has the best intentions for their lives. Truth be told, I can't blame them for this line of thinking. After all...

We know that all things work together for good
for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose — Romans 8:28

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope — Jeremiah 29:11

I only mention these two because they seem to come up in more conversations than other similar passages. I used to be a Jeremiah 29:11 fan myself, believing that no plan God had for me would bring me harm, misfortune, or pain. I believed that God was always worthy of my thanks and what, whenever something bad happened in my life, it was something God could and would use for God's glory and good will. God was always in control and never to be questioned. God was good and therefore all that God did was good.

...Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger's view this time
Or maybe not, not today
Maybe You'll provide in other ways
And if that's the case

Brooklyn. Manhattan. Cleveland. Syria. Ukraine. Palestine. Israel. Ferguson. Selma. Denver. Oklahoma City. The names of places in the last two decades that have suffered various tragedies seems countless. If I could name here the individuals and families I've encountered who've faced their own personal tragedies, it would bump my word count up high enough that even I wouldn't want to read this post. The pain in this world feels insurmountable. The heartbreak that people face is inconceivable. Yet the mentality that we are always to be grateful to God for our "blessings" is so pervasive that, half of the time, I struggle to be present with those patients and their family members for whom this mindset is simply an unquestionable way of life. God is good, and that's that. End of story.

In June, it will have been four years since Nanny died in a car crash. In July, 25 years will have passed since Papaw died of colon cancer. Every day another patient dies in the hospital, some surrounded by loved ones, some alone. Every day someone is shot, beaten, dehumanized. Every day someone, somewhere, suffers. Someone is homeless. Someone is hungry. Someone is naked. Someone is sick. I cannot, in good conscience, tell those people to thank God. I cannot tell them it is wrong to feel angry or sad or hurt. And so I won't.

Instead, I will offer them six words, and then perhaps four more...

...this sucks. I'm sorry. I'm here...

and if the situation warrants it...

...all shall be well...

There is a time and a place for gratitude, for thanksgiving. There is also a time and a place for mourning and sorrow, for anger and pain. I'm glad that I get to help make space for the latter, for people to simply feel what they feel without judgment or condemnation. Next time you think of saying the words, "Be grateful," ask yourself, "Would I be grateful right now if I were in their shoes, if I felt their pain?"

————

photo credit: Guy Mayer (via Flickr)