There are four words that are saving my life right now. By ‘saving my life’ I just mean helping me to keep turning my soul towards God, again and again. Because I often forget who I am, and what I am. These phrases remind me that I am more than just these skin and bones, and so is the person sitting across from me at the dinner table.
We all know that gratitude is good for us, and yet even after hearing all the wonderful stories of how it’s changed people’s lives I just haven’t felt desperate for a gratitude practice. (Isn’t this what we say when we actually are the ones who need it most?) What I mean is, I do feel like a pretty grateful person. I treasure the simple things in life. The light cascading across my kitchen, the smell of onions in oil, a cinnamon bun warm from the oven, a smile from a friend, these are all things that make me pause and feel a deep sense of thankfulness.
But where gratitude is saving my life right now is in those moments when maybe the lighting isn’t so perfect, there isn’t a beautiful aroma in the air, I am not exactly where I want to be. Those moments when I’ve just sat down with a mug of tea and my journal and my children come bounding into the room with their wide eyes and their chatter and their closeness. They push my tea aside and land themselves on the couch beside me, knocking my journal and all the deep thoughts I was about to think onto the floor. Here is where I need to breathe a Thank-you, even though I was not really wanting their chatter or their closeness. Just look at these little humans! How wonderful are they. How full of life. How amazing that they began in the safety of my womb and here they are, my own heart walking around outside of my body. I am Mother and what a gift it is.
The Thank-you softens me a little bit. The Important Things become less necessary, I retreat once again from the centre of my world, and these boys waken me to the Kingdom of Light I was wanting to seek anyway. When I pause and notice them I am like Jacob in the book of Genesis, waking up from his dream saying Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it!
Of course it is not always so easy to see the light in these boys, when they are being defiant, not doing the thing I’ve asked them 5 times to do, but even in these moments can my heart hold a Thank-you? Because we are together, and we have breath, and even though there are time-outs and hurt feelings and tears and voices raised, we still have each other. This is fragile, this having one another, this being able to see each other face to face. Thank-you.
When you start paying attention to what is in front of you, whether it’s your husband, your children, your dog or the clerk bagging your groceries, you start to hold more space in your heart for them. It was Dallas Willard who taught me to pray the words Bless you over people I encountered during the day. I had never thought to do this, though I smiled at strangers and forced myself to do the minimal amount of small talk to show I wasn’t a schmuck. But Bless you brings this encounter to a whole other level. I don’t say the words out loud, but in saying the prayer in my heart I am remembering the soul of the other person. I am wanting what is best for them. I am wanting them to feel loved and cherished and in that desire I am believing it for myself too. In the Bless you I am remembering that we are of the same stuff, dust of the earth made in the image of God. We both want to belong and maybe we believe in our worthiness on this particular day or maybe we don’t. Either way, the Bless you is me holding this person in my heart for just a moment, and the distance and differences that were once there vanish for that moment. We are, together, beloved children of God.
If your days are running into the next in one big blur, and in the rush and flurry of life you drop into bed wondering how to get a glimpse of God in you, before you, well I’d suggest you try these words sometime. If anything, I hope they remind you that He has always been with you and goes before you. And little by little, as we keep saying these little “yeses” to Him, to our belonging in Him, our hearts are becoming one with His.
If God truly is love, then the deeper I love, the more I know God. That’s one really good thing about the Christ-life, it’s grounded in love of flesh and blood people.Sister Helen Prejean