(Un)Gratitude

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This post is part of the UNCO synchro blog. You can read other posts from the series here.

I talk a lot about gratitude on this blog (see these), and this is the season of gratitude, thanksgiving being a few days a way and all. But we have been given this challenge with UNCO to think about “ungraditude.” I know it’s not a word, but go with it…

I was thinking about all the things I’m ungrateful for and there is a long list this year. But here’s what all the things really come down to… I’m ungrateful for brokenness, for my ability to cause another pain, and for another to cause me pain.

Once upon a time someone hurt someone else, in some way, some how. We call this sin. (If you want to read more about my thoughts on sin, I wrote about it in The Four Letter Word) Like every person I have been hurt, and I have caused hurt. I have bullied and struggled, I have projected and manipulated to get what I wanted, I have been dumped on, projected on to, hurt in countless ways. Some forgivable, some I need God to forgive.

I am ungrateful for all of it.

I love community, I love relationship, I love interaction and people and connection. I hate the way we hurt each other. I hate that I may expect something from you and you from me and we might disappoint. I hate that your shit and my shit might collide and we have to navigate the shit blinded by our own pain. I hate that you might die on me, or quit on me, or worse, leave me just because. I’m afraid of leaving you for no good reason or quitting on you or dying on you. I hate that in my attempt to help I might end up hurting you.

This is the risk we run. This is the risk to being in relationship, the ability to be hurt or cause pain. Because we’re imperfect, sinful, fallen (whatever that means) creatures. Why is not a useful question here, how may be…

Self Awareness is key, sure, absolutely. Knowing my triggers and how I have been hurt, vital. Knowing when I am spoiling for a fight or in need of something and having the ability to ask for what I need. Quite helpful in relationship. However, even when I am able to ask that doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to provide, and I need to be okay with that too.

Because God only knows when I am going to say something mundane that will trigger someone else. Or vice versa. We mean well as people, we really do, but we hurt each other.

A few weeks ago in Youth Group we were discussing things we were ungrateful for. They had great answers: war, pollution, bullying, suicide… but, like most of us, they wanted to fix it fairly quickly. The most echoed thought was “we need to have the bad days so we can appreciate the good.” And this seemed to be an acceptable thought, by the youth and the youth leaders. I pushed a little, but really, this is not just acceptable, this is preferred in our world. It’s how we justify the hurt.

I don’t need the hurt justified. I don’t need bad days to appreciate the good. I hate bad days, they cause me and the people around me pain and I am just ungrateful for them. I’m ungrateful for the brokenness that causes them and the sinful cycles we are all stuck in and project on each other because of them.

This is where I usually fix it and wrap it all in a bow, somehow turn it into being grateful, but not today, not with this post, I will however end with this:

God, I am ungrateful for the bad days, ungrateful for the sin that pulls me from you. Ungrateful for the shit that life creates and my ability to hurt and be hurt. I am ungrateful for it all. Heal our broken hearts, heal my pain. Amen.

The Four Letter Word

Recently our Children and Families Ministry Director and I were talking about the wonders of new babies and their spiritual connections with God. I believe that before we are born we are part of God. In Jeremiah we are told that God loves us even before we are knit in our mother’s womb. I think this is the most beautiful poetry (and kind of gross reality so don’t think about the metaphor too long…). This text has also been highjacked for a political argument that I will not get in to at the moment, as I do not want that to be the focus of this discussion.

I have two children. One is 5, the other 2. I am entering a stage with my son (the 2 year old) that I remember clearly with my daughter a few years back. Now the terrible 2’s in my house are just that, a phase that we all go through, but years ago I watched my daughter in horror enter a new phase of life, this time around it has not been any better.

Let me back up to give you the whole story.

So I believe what Paul writes in his letter to the Romans “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord. So whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:8). This beautiful text is often read at funerals but I wonder if we should not read it more often at births.

I am a lover of the theologian Paul Tillich who says sin is an estrangement or separation from God, and that our lives are spent in seeking to get back, fully into the light of God. Obviously this is an oversimplification but there doesn’t need to be more for what I am talking about.

Babies are born living in the full light of God and from the moment of birth, they are getting farther and farther away from their awareness of God and closer to the human sin that is estrangement.

I saw this in my children in their first three months of life. They were completely unaware to their surroundings. The only thing they recognized were light and sound. Then slowly they started to pay attention. I will never forget the first moments my children looked me in the eye, recognized my face and smiled. This is a very proud moment as a parent, but I admit, it was also a sad moment as a spiritual being- knowing that in a lot of ways, as this child’s mother, I was becoming her and his God.

The more my children became aware of the world, the more they started to estrange themselves from God and replace God with otherness, starting with their parents. This is not to say that parents are bad or wrong, it is part of the realities of life. Why? I have no idea. If I could answer that I really would be God instead of just playing one in the pulpit.

Anyway, I have never been a big “original sin” person. Yet, I remember experiencing “the fall” with my children. With my youngest, just recently, so I thought I would tell you about it.

For the last two and a half years his sister has been the love of his life along with his parents. After he became aware of the world and I watched this transfer of unconditional love from God come to his father, myself and his older sister and it was beautiful to watch. In some ways I was sad for his estrangement from perfect love but I knew he was in good hands loving us, knowing fully, that we would always love him back.

But this was just the beginning, becoming aware of your surroundings and transferring love is fine, there is separation but not necessarily sin. Before two years old children are not vicious, there is no ill intent. This all changed a few weeks ago when my son said the dreaded four letter word.

“Mine” he yelled to his sister as he yanked the toy from her hand.

I was sitting on the couch and it almost happened in slow motion as I turn to see him pull his arm back.

There it was, he had eaten the apple. His first sin.

“Mine” as opposed to “yours”. The fall is in distinguishing yourself from others. When we are born we are completely communal, completely dependent on one another. A little after two, we fall. We now see ourselves as an individual.

This is the ultimate sin, this to me, leads to all other sins. When I become more important than you, when something is my possession not yours, when I see myself as an individual separate not only from God, but from other people.

“Mine” he screamed I felt a dagger through my heart. He will now join the rest of us in our uphill battle to reclaim our perfect relationship with God, now that he has experienced separation.

God be with you my sweet boy, God be with us all.