If I had to do all over again (and I were much smarter) I would definitely be a neurologist--or a professional surfer. But let's stick with neurologist for the sake of this post. I am fascinated with the brain. Everything about it. The delicacy of moods and emotions and memory. How fragments buried deep in my past subconsciously affect my experiences of today. How the brain is wired for healing and how all that works together in my spirituality. Fascinating!!
With all that in mind I've been analyzing my last couple of weeks (perhaps over analyzing as I'm prone to do) and making some interesting observations.
As I mentioned (see my previous post), I've had a stellar couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I experienced five days that were not just productive, but full of great family moments, laughter with friends, good gifts and lots of highlights. Last week, I was in Hawaii. No further explanation required.
Superimposed on that reality was a spiritual practice I began again a few weeks prior. Each night before bed I spend five minutes writing down things I am thankful for that day and then direct that list as a prayer of gratitude.
So here's what I've been wondering...did I just pick the best couple of weeks of my year to begin a daily gratitude practice or did my daily gratitude practice have something to do with the outcome (or my perception of the outcome)?
I was leaning toward the former until our plane ride home from Hawaii this morning. For the second week in a row, a daily gratitude practice seemed almost silly. Designed to help me recognize God's goodness, this routine bordered on ridiculous. So much good. So much beauty. Too much to possibly even name. But I did it because I was on vacation and feeling lazy. As luck would have it, I was practicing gratitude this season, not poverty or solitude so all I had to do was express gratitude and I would be engaging in a spiritual discipline. Wasn't everyone doing this?
Apparently not. We arrived at the airport last night to discover chaos afoot. A flight back to the mainland had been cancelled and people were frantically scurrying to make other arrangements. Tired, sunburned and often hungover, this was not an ideal way to close out the day. But the levels of rage, entitlement and outright despair seemed a bit dramatic given a couple of factors:
1) They'd just spent days or weeks in one of the most idyllic locations on the planet
2) Worst case scenario, they'd have to stay a couple of extra days in this aforementioned paradise.
Was I missing something?
Don't Make Me Stay Here!
The last couple to make it on to our non-cancelled flight must have spent their time on the torture side of the island. Clearly they did not want to stay and, rumor has it, may or may not have offered to have their baby raised by natives to ensure immediate passage off Kauai.
As the distraught wife dragged her armful of baby toys , car seat, and overstuffed bags brimming with island booty behind her brave, baby--carrying husband she let out frequent sobs. "They were horrible!" She cried to anyone who would listen. Who? I wondered. The flame carrying natives? With that level of distress she must have been at a different luau than we had attended. The hapless TSA employees? The gate agents working their butts off to try to get everyone home from their hellish week?
All the other passengers seemed outraged on behalf of this young couple while I was enraged that I had to turn my music up louder to shut out all the tsk-tsking so I could get some sleep. (Clearly my practice of gratitude has not served to increase my expression of mercy. )
I'm no neurologist, but...
So, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that gratitude makes the heart more grateful. At least for me. In his fascinating book, The Anatomy of the Soul, Dr. Curt Thompson details the stunning effect spiritual disciplines have on brain chemistry. How telling our stories to an empathic listener rewires the neuro pathways of both the teller and the listener. As he discusses brain functioning and spiritual disciplines, Thompson states that "to be...acutely aware of God's beauty in anything leads to awareness of God's beauty in everything, save that which is evil."
I think that's what gratitude is beginning to do in me. And for that, I'm thankful.
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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