The Graveled Path of Gratitude
Many of my summer days as a kid were wrung out and rode out on a hand-me-down powder blue ten speed with slightly bent spokes. This wonderful and simple mode of transportation brought all sorts of adventure and glee to the long, warm days of the much anticipated season. Grateful to be unencumbered by the rules and walls of school, my friend and I would hop on our freedom-cycles and roam all over town. We'd whir up and down the hills to the local swim park or wherever our wheels would take us. What a sweet rush it was!
Now, these were the "good old" days before helmets, wrist guards and the practically combat-grade gear kids are wearing now to take their bikes around even the flat and smooth asphalt-paved neighborhood block. Not knowing any different though, we paid little care to protecting our extremities and oftentimes paid the price for it.
There was this one well-known steep path on our route covered in much-dreaded gravel rock. Neighbor kids talk and we had heard the war stories about those that had been bloodied by this ruthless enemy. I understood the rules of engagement: Take it slow but not too slow, but not too fast either, and make no jerky movements or you could end up with lasting wounds to prove you lost the battle. One afternoon I was feeling a little too confident, or maybe I was just sloppy and neglectful or all three, but I still remember the panic I felt as my bike got a little too wobbly to control. I knew what was next; I was going down.
The hill proved to be a formidable opponent; its shrapnel embedding deep into both of my hands at impact. Oof and ouch. Another victim of this legendary path was put on the books: Me. My friend laughed at the site, thanks a lot. My hands were hurting badly, but so was my pride; a humiliating and painful double whammy.
Life sure can do this to us often eh? We are just cruising along, feeling pretty satisfied with ourselves and thankful that we are gliding nice and easy and then suddenly and without warning; BAM! We are shaken and crash hard, the gravel digging in. Suddenly, our ballooned gratitude for a wonderful day gets punctured and pops in an instant. Life's unexpected miseries can suck the thankful feelings right out the window faster than you can say "Aaack!"
I reminisce about this bruising memory and think how quickly my gratitude can slip and wane; here one moment, vanished the next. Then, I open my Bible once again and read the Apostle Paul's directive given by God for my life's biting and bitter moments:
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thess. 5:16-18, NIV)
As soon as I finish reading it, my mind begins to wince and whine: Um...excuse me? C'mon...are you really expecting me to be joyous and thankful for the times when life rips apart at the seams? In those moments when my husband and I can't seem to get out a sentence without an undertone of criticism, or when my kids are slamming doors and lobbing cruelty-grenades? I plead: "Lord, I need you to show me how to do this because this seems totally impossible for me." I am thankful my weak and uptight heart never offends Him, never makes Him shake His head and walk out of the room, giving up on me.
Instead, He stays, encouraging my continued seeking of the answer. I am gently led to Philippians 4:6-8 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
Wow! Joy rises up inside me, just like that. Another similar directive is given here but it lifts the weight off of the other. He tells us be thankful no matter what because He will take care of the anxiety, the stresses and fears we fret over if only we believe. There is no gravel to be found on this path. If we do this, He will guard our hearts with the covering of unfathomable peace. Protecting and shielding our minds and hearts.
I have found being thankful in all things is really counterintuitive but we are asked to trust with our spiritual heart, not our human one. The first is truth-soaked the latter misleads and trips us, offering gravel not grace. I am going to make a real effort to be more intentional during this month of Thanksgiving to offer gratitude for all, even when my mind tells me it's absurd. I will choose to listen to and believe Jesus and therefore choose this promise of a kingdom-guarded life and real, deep peace. What an extravagant gift. I for one, am overwhelmed and very, very grateful.
Question: Name something that appears to be gravel covered in grace. How will you see it differently knowing Jesus is in the trenches with you?