Friday, October 14, 2011

between gratitude and gripe

the line is fuzzy sometimes, i think. tonight, it's a good thing i'm committed to this gratitude work. because it's work tonight, for sure.

"Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (job 2:10)

today, i found myself thinking, how can i be so troubled by my little problems when there's so much worse going on in the world? how can i lose sleep over my losses when people are suffering so much more than i am? how can i lament my circumstances when others' are so much more dire? i have it so good, really, compared to so many.

i have answered this question for others so many times, so many friends who have followed a lament about their own lives immediately with, "oh, i'm sorry; how can i even complain to you when you've been through so much worse?" the answer i've always given is that there's no comparing griefs. your suffering, your own worst thing, is in fact your own worst thing. it doesn't matter if my worst thing is in some quantifiable way (if that even exists) worse than yours, or if someone else's worst thing is ten times worse. your suffering is pure and absolute in the midst of your own worst thing, and it does you no good to try to diminish it by comparing it with someone else's: it's bad, and it's yours, and it's suffering. that's all you can really know as you experience it, and comparison is futile. it's the same reason that, when luke says, "i'm starving!" i don't follow my no-you're-not answer with but-children-in-ethiopia-are-and-they-have-it-so-much-worse. no, luke isn't starving, and it's good to be careful with our words and make sure we mean what we say. but his own hunger is his own experience of "suffering," and to attempt to diminish that by comparison with someone else's actual starvation is something he can neither access nor profit from: he's still hungry, he's still suffering, and now perhaps he's feeling shame, too. this isn't helpful.

anyhow, as i shamed myself for my lament this morning, i was glad to remember my own answer to others: comparisons are useless. your suffering is bad, it's yours, and that's all there is to it.

but why are the gripes so much easier to come by than is gratitude? sometimes, i think, it's a fine line. sometimes, i think, there's a reason we can't decide whether to laugh or cry. sometimes, i think, the very thing that brings us the most joy can bring us equally the most pain.

today, i'm grateful for clear thinking. thinking about painful things clearly. the lines are fuzzy.

i won't open that tossed-aside card from who-knows-what joyful occasion addressed to the nickname no one knows that i found yesterday. not now. fuzzy and fine.

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