Saturday, February 8, 2014

Grateful for the Whole

Anxiety has been a constant companion for as long as I can remember.  As a child of the Cold War, the anxiety I learned and carried with me was that the Communists would take over our country and kill all the pastors.  My dad was a pastor and it was from him that I learned to fear for my safety.  After a severe betrayal early in my marriage, I feared for the safety of the children in my world as well as felt tremendous anxiety over the potential for another betrayal of trust.

I have always worried over finances, partly because we struggled for so long to make it on one paycheck and partly due to issues from my family of origin.  And as my ex's addiction took over more and more of his life, his professional effectiveness suffered and I worried that he would lose his job, leaving us without a source of income.  Then the front door came crashing down and all the fears and anxieties came together in a perfect storm that resulted in a lack of safety, profound betrayal and an immediate end of our only source of income.

Early in my recovery, I read Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts and made it a practice to find two or three things to be grateful for at the end of each day.  I found that fostering a spirit of gratitude was the perfect antidote to the anxiety and fear that often hounded me at bedtime.  Sometimes it was incredibly difficult to find anything for which to be grateful but I persisted and it has now become a habit.  My anxiety began to recede as my gratefulness grew.

But recently I have noticed a change in what I am thankful for.  More than a job, house, or a divorce that is finally completed, I find that at the end of the day, I am incredibly grateful for the whole of it--the pain, the grief, the joys, the triumphs and the losses.  So more often than not, I whisper, "thank you for the whole of it."  Let me clarify that I certainly am not "grateful" nor happy about the tremendous pain that my ex inflicted upon innocent children, nor do I condone his behavior and wish it were within my power to change that part of the past.  Rather my gratitude for the whole is directly tied to the growth and personal transformation I see in myself as a result of what I have experienced.  I am not the same person I was two years or even two months ago.  I am different  I am freer and I am more complete.  And I am learning to trust--myself, others and most importantly, my Higher Power.

I can express gratitude for the whole of it because I am so happy with the changes I see in my inner life.  Pain can be transformative if we allow it to be.  Someone has said that we can either allow pain to transform us or we transmit it to others.  I knew that I did not want to transmit pain so I have intentionally surrendered to its transformative power.  And I am amazed and grateful.

When I first became a mother, I wanted so very much to protect my children from pain, disappointment and loss.  The first immunizations were probably more traumatic for me than they were for my infant son.  It broke my heart to hear his cries.  And yet it was through the pain of those vaccinations that my son gained immunities from dreadful diseases. Today, I know that if I had the power to prevent my children from experiencing pain, I would not use it.  Today I know that they will suffer disappointment and loss, set-backs and maybe even devastation.  But today I also know that they will survive and that they will be stronger and better as a result of their experience.  They have already suffered tremendously in the past twenty-four months but they are resilient and strong so I am confident that this same resilience and strength will enable them to survive whatever may come tomorrow.

So how could I not be grateful for the whole?  Nothing has been wasted--not one experience or one tear.  It has all produced an abundant harvest of change and growth for which I shout, "Thank You! Thank you for the whole--all of it, the tears, the sorrow, the loss, the grief--thank you."  It is natural to express gratitude for a new baby, or a job or a house.  It is not so natural to be grateful for the hard places.  But today, I am grateful for the whole of it.