Litany for Gratitude 2 + The Dark Side of Gratitude

Over on my Instagram (@franniep) this month I've been sharing a few things each day for which I'm grateful. Big or small, impactful or trivial, I'm just naming things I'm grateful for. This has had some surprising effects. For one, it's getting easier each day to put on my gratitude glasses and see things I'm thankful for. It's getting easier to sit with gratitude and allow it to change my outlook on life.

But for all I think that gratitude is an indispensable part of a healthy outlook, necessary to counteract cynicism and enlarge our picture of God, I think gratitude might have a dark side. I've caught myself several times feeling guilty for feeling gratitude. So many people don't have the privileges I have, the freedoms, their basic needs met. So many have kids who aren't in vibrant health, or family situations that are painful or difficult. Isn't it smug and prideful of me to dwell on all my blessings, list them out, take photos of them and post them on social media, acknowledge them and allow myself the pleasure of enjoying them?

It kind of is, isn't it?

Furthermore I've been in some painful, messy places in life, and was I very good at practicing gratitude during those times? Not hardly. Isn't gratitude supposed to be a good clean feeling, black and white, no gray allowed? Isn't it mean to rub gratitude in the face of people in pain?

It kind of is. No one told me it would be so messy.

When I let my thoughts come full circle, I think it would be worse to not be grateful. It would be worse to not enjoy and participate in feasting on life whenever the opportunity arises. It would be small-hearted and cynical to not assume a posture of gratitude. It would be worse to deny the mercy of God whenever we are offered it.

This is a thing the discipline of gratitude does: it opens our eyes. Both to our blessing and to our privilege, to our undeserving and our responsibility, to our smallness and our preciousness. A posture of gratitude can illuminate that gray area between abundance and poverty, and inform our perception of them. It can illuminate joy as well as joy's pesky sidekick: suffering.

And also, gratitude gets easier. The more we do it, the more naturally we revert to it. I think we should practice it whenever we can if we hope to have any capacity for it at all when suffering comes. So to that end, I've written us a prayer to practice with, and hopefully help us wear grooves of gratitude in our hearts so that we can find them by touch, even in the dark.

I’ve kept to a simple refrain in this instance for congregational ease, but I have another Litany for Gratitude here.

 

Great God, You created the good earth and all its creatures, the heavens and all they contain.
We give thanks.
You give us life. You give us consciousness and choices. You give us love.
We give thanks.

For the blessings of family, friendships, and worldly provision,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of talent, aptitude, and meaningful work,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of food, wine, and good conversation, those times of feast and enjoyment,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of trivial pleasures, small gifts meant for our happiness,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of expression, song, art, human ingenuity, and creativity,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of peace that come from knowing You,
We give thanks.

When we survive mishaps
We give thanks.
When we endure consequences and pain
We give thanks.
When we must combat evil with goodness and love
We give thanks.
When we must deny ourselves, bear burdens, and obey
We give thanks.
When we must suffer loss and disappointment
We give thanks.
When me must come to the end of our physical lives
We give thanks.

When we chose violence and rebellion, you made a way to recover us.
We give thanks.
The way is Christ: the true and full, shining image of Your love.
We give thanks.
For Jesus Christ and the Kingdom he began here, in which You invite us to participate,
We give thanks.
And for the experience of living on earth, in all its paradoxes and mingling of joy and suffering,
We give thanks.

Amen.



 

Litany for Our Enemies + That Time I Accidentally Told My Kid About ISIS

*I'm sharing a story along with a litany today. I usually try to keep strictly to the prayers, but maybe sometimes a story will give context for how a litany can be a useful place to go, a useful tool in a kit for coping with the reality of evil and posturing ourselves towards Jesus.

I accidentally told my 5 year old daughter about ISIS. Oops.

The conversation started at bedtime, as many of our deep conversations do, in those still moments when mostly I’m feeling antsy and ready to be done parenting for the day but am trying to remain present and sing songs, talk quietly, help them decompress for sleep. I don’t even really remember how we got started, but I was caught off guard and unprepared for the line of questioning, and ISIS has been on my mind so therefore I let the ISIS cat out of the bag. I also have this pesky value for telling my kids the truth that sometimes trips me up.

I think we were talking about kindness, and in the context of that I said the word “violence.”

What’s violence?
It’s doing things that hurt people.
Like being mean?
Yes. We want to be kind, not violent.
But some people are violent?
Yes, some people are.
You mean some people are mean?
Yes.
Where do they live?
Well, there are mean people everywhere, but I don’t think you know any.
(My kid just learned that mean people exist. Hallelujah. Christ, have mercy.)
But WHERE ARE THEY?
Well, there are some mean people in a place far away called the Middle East, they call themselves ISIS.
(Oh I have done it now. Instant regret. No turning back now.)
What do they do? Do they kill people?
Yes, they do. They do violence.
How do they do it? With bow and arrows? With guns?
(Here is where my head is finally on straight and I refuse to mention bombs. I deflect, for better or worse.)
Why do they do it?
I think they are confused about what God’s way is. God’s way is love, peace, and beauty.
Do they have neighbors and friends? Do they try to hurt them?
They have neighbors; I don’t know if they have friends.
Are they sad and lonely?
I think they might be.
What do the neighbors do?
I think some try to help them change, and some try to move away to a safer place.
THAT MAKES ME SO SAD. I’M GONNA CRY NOW, MAMA.

You and me both, sister. Now, let me pause here and say that this is an abbreviated version of the conversation, and that my mind was churning with how best to respond. There were a lot of other questions. (Do they wear red and black clothes? They wear regular clothes.) (How do you know about them? I read the news.) She is a very empathetic soul, and I don’t want her up in the night worrying about terrorists and refugees at age 5. But I do want to give her a place to go with the sorrow. So I say:

Jesus tells us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.”
What’s persecute?
Be mean to. Would you like to pray for ISIS and their neighbors?
Yes!
Jesus please bless the people of ISIS. Please show them your way of love, peace, and beauty. Please change their hearts and show them kindness. Help them not to be confused about God’s way.
AND HELP THEIR NEIGHBORS MOVE!
Help their neighbors find a safe place. Help the mean people become kind.

AMEN.

I held hands with my sweet little daughter, lying in her little bed, and prayed for the redemption of ISIS. This is the story of how my parenting gaffe made possible a moment of impossible beauty and sadness. My head is still swimming with it. And isn’t this typical of Jesus? To hide a core of beauty within apparent sadness? Isn’t this exactly what happened on Resurrection Day? So, there is sadness that my child must eventually have the knowledge of good and evil, and that other children live in the lap of evil daily; but there is beauty that THERE IS ALWAYS PRAYER. There is always a beautiful way to follow. There is always hope. And there is always, always forgiveness and redemption.

I invite you to pray now:

Resurrected Jesus, we call upon your mercy now.
We ask you to turn your attention to our enemies, those who do violence and terror, who kill and destroy.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
We ask you to bless, love, and redeem them; to show them the kindness of your heart.
We ask you to lovingly clear up their misunderstanding of God’s way.
We ask you to care for and protect those innocents around them.
We ask you to bring them all, violent and innocent, into the safety of your kingdom.
Amen