Bitterness ...or Gratitude?
This, too, will pass. It is one of my favorite phrases when I am going through a difficult time, feeling despair. It is often my lifeline, keeping me going until it passes. It reminds me than everything is transitory: trouble, feelings, thoughts, circumstances.
Life has been challenging for a few years now. Loss of a job in the construction industry, so finding employment has been especially challenging and taking a job that brings in about 1/4th of what I was previously making. The draining of my savings. Moving out of a large apartment I could no longer afford and downsizing to renting a room in someone else's home. Dealing with the difficulties of a long-distance relationship that is struggling. All in a place where the support-system I had developed is in another state 500 miles away not only can I not afford to move back, but the employment prospects are even worse there (which was why I moved here in the first place!)
Though I am generally a positive person, I am also prone to chronic low-grade depression. Until recently, in one of those hidden-in-plain-sight discoveries (thanks to some of the information I found on this sight!) that only becomes obvious when your attention is drawn to it, I hadnt connected that with being empathic. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, Doh! Well, in these times, there are plenty of negative feelings to soak up. And I am indeed feeling overwhelmed. I know that, being sensitive, I need to take extra care of myself when things are difficult but sometimes that just feels like yet another burden and stress added to what is already on my plate. I find myself wishing I were 5 years old again so someone else would take care of me!
What I find most worrisome, however, is that I am becoming bitter. As a child I saw how bitterness and resentment poisoned my mother and vowed, at age 12, to NEVER allow myself to become bitter. And I have been remarkably successful through all the bouts of depression, through a hellish marriage, through a rape, through other job losses, through poverty and homelessness. I have always been remarkably resilient. And what I am going through now is not any worse than anything I have been through before. So why is it hitting me harder? The only thing obviouslydifferent is menopause has been added to the mix and while I do not discount its impact, Ive also lived with hormonal imbalances since puberty.
I heard a song this past week that brought me up short. I listen to a Christian radio station throughout the day and this particular one was about someone who was going through a difficult time. I do not remember the exact words (and so cant find the song online right now!), but it made the point that every pain and difficulty is remembered and recorded and that one day we will get back every one of those moments; every tear will be replaced with joy. It reminded me of the thought I started this post with: that everything in this life is temporary.
I received another insight a few days later when I was listening to a program that focused on expressing gratitude. The scripture quoted was 1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks (or, in a other translations: give thanks in all circumstances). This can seem not only impossible in some situations, but an unreasonable and downright cruel command. But I KNOW from my own experience that it is powerful.
I learned this lesson almost 20 years ago. It began with a story I read about Mother Teresa: she discouraged using the word problem; instead, she encouraged calling it an opportunity. The person relating this story remarked on what a profound impact it had on their attitudes and approaches to 'problems'. Initially, they made a joke of saying that they had a new opportunity, but over time they realized that they actually began to stop seeing them as problems butas opportunities:to make positive changes, to improve circumstances, to transform lives. They began to actually welcome 'problems' instead of dreading them.
This played out in my own life when an ex-boyfriend was stalking me. For my own protection, I needed to make radical changes in my life: moving, buying a different car, disconnecting my phone and filtering all calls through an intermediary, changing my routes to and from college, constantly being aware of my surroundings when driving to insure I was not being followed. To put it mildly, it was inconvenient. The worse thing, for me at least, was that I was FORCED to depend on others to help and protect me. And I was angry; angry that I had done nothing whatsoever to deserve this, yet my whole life was disrupted; angry at my helplessness to stop him (this was several years before stalking laws were enacted, and I was unable to catch him in the one and only way I could have prosecuted him: trespassing); angry that he could blithely, not only live his life undisturbed, but continue to make my life hell without any consequences to himself. I realized my anger and resentment were hurting no one but myself, but I didnt know what to DO with them. In the midst of this, the 1 Thessalonians passage came to my attention. And God made it clear that I was indeed expected to follow its directive. I was incredulous! You cant mean you expect me to THANK you for this?!?!? All means ALL.
Now, before I go on, I do NOT believe God makes tragedies happen to people. We are given free will, and one of the consequences of that is the ability to choose to treat our fellow man in horrible ways. Nor do I believe that acts of God such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis are actually caused by God they are the natural results of a dynamic world. I do believe God intervenes by damping and mitigating the severity of disasters, by whispering warnings and suggestions in our ears, by sending someone who can make a difference in an outcome. But even many of these depend on exercising our free will to act. So I do not see the command to give thanks in all things as a command to thank God FOR CAUSING those circumstances. But to give thanks IN them. Nevertheless, I did choose to thank God FOR it; for how God would use it tomoldme.
I did not pretend I wasnt angry about it. I expressed that, too. I do not know how many times I said, God, I am REALLY pissed off right now. I do NOT understand why this is happening to me. I HATE dealing with it. But I choose to trust you and thank you for it anyway. Even though thanking you for it pisses me off, too! And an amazing thing happened. Slowly but steadily, my anger dissipated. I even gained enough understanding and compassion for the stalker (though I was no less vigilant in protecting my safety) to forgive him. I found out how much my friends loved me and learned to be gracious in accepting their help. I stopped being poisoned by my negative feelings and found peace. I began to feel gratitude in the midst of a trying situation.
The program I heard reminded me of this truth. I truly DO have many things to BE grateful for:
Yes, I am making only a fraction of what I was before I was laid off, but I have a roof over my head, enough food to keep me healthy, and can pay all my bills.
Yes, it sucks when hot flashes wake me up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat or hit while Im working outside in 100-degree temperatures, but my endometriosis is in remission and the painful periods are gone.
Yes, it is difficult to work on a troubled relationship when a 1000 miles separate you, but I know I am loved and he has proven over and over - his commitment in the face of every difficulty.
The guest speaker in the program pointed out that we want to be thanked, and as beings made in the image of God, it makes sense that God also wants to be thanked. But I think there is another, deeper reason I need to express gratitude. It is too easy to become complacent, to take what I have for grated, to forget how blessed I am, to let bitterness and resentment take root. It is impossible to simultaneously feel a negative emotion (anger, resentment, self-pity, entitlement, etc) and gratitude. I needed to be reminded that the struggles of today will not last. And to incorporate gratitude into my life every day.