All throughout the day today social media will be flooded with posts regarding how blessed everyone is and how they are thankful for this or that.
In truth, there is nothing wrong with this. Unless our words are mere words. Focusing on thankfulness is a wonderful thing. It brings people together, draws kindness out of our hearts and often can bring glory to God. But if thankfulness ends with the words that we use to make a nice social media post, we will remain empty and unfulfilled. Thankfulness should grow and sprout up gratitude.
But I guess 'Gratsgiving' doesn't quite have the ring to it that ‘Thanksgiving’ has.
Gratitude is the desire to go beyond expressing thankfulness with words. Gratitude is the action that flows forth from a heart full of thanksgiving.
Stay with me for a minute if you would. Let me invite you into the corner of my heart and share with you something that God has been doing.
Many of you have read my story. You are aware of the journey that I am on. A transformation has occurred in almost every area of my life over the last 3 months. And I feel that today it is appropriate for me to share an example of thankfulness & gratitude.
As a boy, I was sexually abused by my father. Because of that fact many of the memories from my childhood are gone.
Completely vanished. It's like someone cut them out of my memory.
I sat in a counseling session a couple months ago, I shook my head in frustration as my therapist asked me a simple question, "What's your first childhood memory."
I tried to give him an honest answer. I thought for a bit and tried to come up with something that would truly be my first "memory." I failed. I finally said I don't know. I have no idea. So much seems to be missing.
Apparently, this is a common thing among abuse victims. Our minds are powerful enough to know that some memories are traumatic and so it submerges them deep within our consciousness. But as powerful as the mind is, it has trouble in determining exactly which memories would be traumatic and which ones wouldn't be. So, instead of just erasing this one and that one, Boom, the 'CTRL-A + Delete' function occurs. For the non-techy individuals out there, pressing CTRL-A is a shortcut for selecting all the files in a folder, all the text on a page or all the e-mails within your inbox, allowing you to delete everything with a click of a button or the stroke of a single key.
One of the frustrations I have had over the years is that there are certain memories that, for whatever reason, seem to always come to the forefront of my mind. A scene from a movie, a statement made by a friend during a conversation or a story within a book can all trigger an almost overwhelming emotional experience for me. Most of the time, these moments cause an unpleasant memory to be recalled to the forefront of my mind.
I remember sitting in the theater watching the movie "Inglorious Bastards." There is an extremely graphic scene were the American soldiers capture an enemy Nazi soldier and bash his head in repeatedly with a baseball bat. For some reason, this scene connected with the hatred that I felt in my heart towards my dad. In one moment, I was sitting in the theater enjoying a comical retelling of World War II. The next, I was a kid again. My dad was present with me. I knew exactly where I was and what was about to happen to me. The same thing that had happened before. But this time, in my memory, I held a baseball bat. My mind was taking the images I had seen on the screen and using them to defend myself in a past memory. The memory had taken over my reality to the extent that the person I was with nudged me. I had been squeezing her hand so tightly that it had started to hurt her. My hand was shaking. I was sweating. I was filled with a rage that I’m not sure I had experienced before.
I share all that to provide some background of what I am about to divulge. In that moment, I realized that I would rather have my father dead than endure the things that he did to me. For many years, I allowed that hate to control my life.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, I’m back in my therapist office. We are discussing a topic that has become a common theme during our sessions, my father, the abuse and the fallout from it all.
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this,” I mutter. “But, well… While I would never in a million years ever wish what happened to me to happen to someone else. And while I would never want to go back in time and experience all the things that happened to me again….”
At this moment, there is a long pause. I realized the magnitude of the words that are about to come out of my mouth.
I continued slowly, choosing each word carefully and speaking from the depths of my heart. I was getting emotional then and I’m getting emotional now retelling the events.
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this. But I’m thankful, truly thankful, for what happened to me.”
My therapist looks up, still silent, seemingly waiting for me to finish my thoughts before interjecting.
“Again, I wouldn’t want anyone to go through it. I wouldn’t want to go through it again. But without all that hurt, pain and betrayal. Without all the tears, heartbreak, anger & hatred. Without all the terrible choices that I made as a result of the darkness, without any of that, who I am? What story do I have?”
Tears are starting to slowly make their way down my cheeks. These are not tears of pain or regret. These are tears of joy. Tears of victory.
Thankfulness. Even for the darkest of nights. For without the darkness I would have no story.
For one to be able to cherish the light, they must first have experienced the vast nothingness of darkness.
The conversation wasn’t over. I wasn’t finished.
Thankfulness is never enough. Gratitude must follow.
But how do you express true thankfulness for something so tragic?
“I want my dad to know that I’ve forgiven him. But I want to do more than that. I want to sit across from him, to look him in the eye and tell him there is no anger, hate or spite left inside my heart towards him for what he has done.”
“I want to look him in the eye and tell him I love him. I want him to know that what he did to me, as disgusting and revolting as it was, has no power over me anymore.”
I know. Some of you are thinking I’m insane. But this is gratitude. I’m commanded to love my enemies and I feel I can honestly say that my father fits that description well. I chose to be thankful. I chose to love him. I chose gratitude.
Choosing to love my father will not change much from his perspective. I’m still not going to allow him into my life. He won’t be able to communicate with me unless I initiate it. I am not sure that he understands the magnitude of his actions. I have no interest in letting him into my life. But I’m not commanded to do those things. I’m only commanded to love.
It’s Thanksgiving. It’s a day for us to look back at our lives and express thanks to others and to God for the blessings that we have. But I challenge you to look back at the dark moments in your life. The moments of pain, heartbreak and loss. Can we begin to be thankful for them?
Because of the pain that I experienced I can be grateful for healing.
Because of the addiction that controlled me I can be grateful for sobriety, recovery and transformation.
Because of the darkness that I experienced I can be grateful for the Light.
I have no idea who I would be or what my story would consist of without the darkness. I do know that because of the darkness I have an opportunity to share what God has done in my life with others. I can share about how he provided hope when all hope was lost, how He provided healing when my heart was broken, how he provided Light when everything went dark.
We are commanded to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18 - ESV)
So… when you go to write that fluffy social media post (and it’s completely okay to do that), take a moment and decide how you can go beyond thankfulness and express gratitude this thanksgiving.
If I can learn to be grateful for the darkness, I know I can begin to do the same for all the good...
And I believe that you can too.
Happy Gratsgiving everybody!
I've celebrated 4 anniversaries of my 25th birthday. I have an amazing wife & an incredible son. God is transforming my life and I love to write. Here you will find my ramblings about what God has done, is doing and my dreams of what I hope He will do in the future. Thanks for coming along for the ride!