‘Tis the season to give thanks, but what if we change things up a bit this time around? It could be a gratitude throw down of epic proportions, if we all make an effort. We already know that counting our blessings in an intentional way is good for us. It not only makes us more grateful, but more content. Suddenly the smell of fresh-brewed coffee in the morning or the sight of a hawk circling overhead serve as entry points to something much deeper. But, can we take that idea one step further, into the murky waters of struggle and sorrow, and find blessings even there? That’s our challenge.
Nothing that happens to us along life’s path exists in isolation. Oftentimes, the events we’d like to forget because of the pain and heartache they’ve caused are the very things that help shape us. I’m not referring only to those rare but brave souls who manage to find new life in a cancer diagnosis or traumatic loss, although, to be sure, they are heroes in this department. I’m also talking about those of us who have witnessed firsthand a transformation brought about through life events, from tumultuous to mundane, which leave our insides churning, sometimes due to our own missteps and sometimes at the hand of someone else.
Imagine, for example, the boss or job that made your life difficult and caused you to change careers or move to a new city, the injury that forced you to quit running or dance, the relationship that ended with both parties shattered. These are the things that don’t typically make it to a page in our gratitude journal. But what if we flipped that dynamic around? What if we look at those difficult situations, people and moments through a different lens to see how they have blessed us? Would we be where we are today without them?
If we are in a daily relationship with someone, whether at home or at work, in our parish or in our community, we cannot help but be shaped or at least influenced by those regular encounters. We are interdependent, and, whether we want to admit it or not, it is often the thing that pushes us into discomfort that offers us the most profound lessons, the greatest opportunities for growth.
Perhaps you are in one of those situations right now, experiencing something that makes you unhappy or uncomfortable, that makes you want to run for the hills or at least pull the covers over your head and hide for a few days. What if even that is a blessing? Not because of the pain it causes but because of the lesson it offers. Can we learn to be grateful for—and open to—the lessons?
Life continually gives us opportunities to learn something we don’t want to learn or face something we don’t want to face. If we’re honest, we can usually look back on those moments that stand out as the most challenging—the places where we chose to make course corrections rather than stay somewhere we shouldn’t be, as well as the times we chose to stay put rather than quit or run—and see, with 20/20 hindsight, the gift in those difficult moments. Everything is interconnected. Erase the job you hated or the relationship that failed or the move that didn’t work out and suddenly you don’t end up in the city where you met your spouse and had your children, or the job that led to the work that gives meaning to your days.
Everything is blessing, and I say that as much to convince myself as to convince you. It isn’t an easy statement. From experience, I know life throws things at us that don’t feel even remotely like a blessing. Yet, everything God asks of us eventually takes us where we need to go, if we are open to the gifts that are not always in plain sight.
This column originally appeared in the Nov. 9, 2017, issue of Catholic New York.