Several years ago, during this very same season of giving thanks, I went through a very difficult passage.
It was not long after my daughter Arayla (nine years old at the time), had endured a vicious health ordeal that landed her in the pediatric I.C.U. for one long, terrifying week.
There’s pretty much nothing like watching your child fight for their life.
Since her powerful recovery I had been troubled to notice that I was feeling more distraught—in fear, anger, and heartache—than purely relieved and grateful.
Here she was, miraculously improving before my very eyes, skipping vibrantly through the house, scattering her bright-eyed laughter, her clever bossiness, her gracious old-soul wisdom and elegance. Here she was, ALIVE. And so why was my heart feeling so broken?
I knew I had so very much to be grateful for. But in reality I was feeling perpetually triggered and defensive and guarded against life.
Life has shown me again and again that gratitude is one of the most powerful tools we have; a major key to freedom. If only I can connect with sincere gratitude for what’s here, for all the many ways I am blessed, for this simple honor of aliveness, then I can find peace.
Yet in this case my gratitude had become eclipsed by fear. For the life of me, I couldn’t shake the dark weight and depression her illness had inspired. In private corners of my day I would resort to self-scolding: She lived! She’s here! You got to KEEP her! What are you so sad about?
It became obvious to me that at some core level I was deeply angry with God. The trauma of my daughter’s illness had left me feeling disheartened and disillusioned about the unpredictable nature of life and love.
I found myself wrestling with the suffering that accompanies our vulnerable attachment to others.
How were we supposed to even enjoy love inside a field of imminent, uncontrollable loss? How were we supposed to feel even remotely safe in this equation? Were we supposed to just live with the fact that it is all hopelessly beyond our control?
Finally it became clear that I had a substantial bone to pick with God. It began with my hurting mama heart, and this immense vulnerability of attachment. But as I inquired deeper, I recognized that this bone I needed to pick with God was much bigger than my own little life.
It was about the greater suffering on the planet; the distressing darkness of the masses.
It was about the blind fear and short-sighted greed of corporate madness.
It was about the insanity that leads to children shooting other children.
It was about the countless, devastating effects of global warming—distressing our oceans, our forests, our communities; eliminating countless species, including possibly our own.
It was about the soil and the seeds and the bees.
It was about the entirely unnecessary prevalence of poverty.
It was about the tragedy of our collective misperception of separation—from the Great Mystery and from each other—fueling addiction, war and dis-ease across the globe.
I found myself feeling angry, really furious with God about all of this.
As I fumed in rage and grief, I recognized that I felt sincerely challenged to love a God, a Life, a Mystery that could be this horrifically messy—including so much disaster and misery for so many.
With this recognition I could feel myself touching into the deepest source of my angst; my most turbulent inner conundrum: How to love this life with all it includes? How to be sincerely grateful for life as it is?
I found myself courageously praying towards real resolution: how to discover authentic peace? How to stop the fight against God? How to just love life anyway—to somehow find true gratitude for this life in its ruthless inclusion of continuous loss, constant uncertainty, and zero control?
I sat at my altar and wept and burned in the fire of no control. I knew I had to find a way to open my heart to life on life’s terms. I knew my freedom and joy and the health of my relationships depended on it.
And so I burned and burned, and wept, and allowed all my grievances against life to be felt and named and known. I allowed my broken heart to simply be included in my love.
And in my willingness to open wider to everything that appeared to be in the way of true gratitude, I found my way humbly home to my own broken-open heart of authentic thanks and forgiveness.
I recognized that if our love for life remains conditional, based upon us getting our own way or life looking the way we want it to, we remain defended against the slap of life’s ruthless uncertainty. We remain fearful of life’s radical inclusivity.
The degree to which our hearts are guarded and armored against life’s horrors is the exact degree to which we are also closed to its brilliant love, beauty, and joy. There’s just no escaping that truth!
Today, if I were to name a spiritual practice, it is only found in this ongoing, moment-by-moment practice of opening wider to all this life includes.
It is the inherent way this silences my mind and liberates my heart. It is the simple way this grounds me in the precious truth of presence. It is the profound way my willingness to be with what is inspires my reverence for life itself.
In this present season of Giving Thanks, so many of us really do have so much to be grateful for.
This sacred breath, this moment of heart, these dear ones we adore, these birds outside in the trees, this precious water pouring from the skies, this food on our plates, this warmth in our home, this blessed chance to say thank you, once again.
But perhaps for some of us, in order to discover a deeper sincerity of thanks, we must first tell the truth about what’s in the way of that. About what’s burning raw in our hearts; what’s angry or disheartened; what’s aching within us, for good reason.
Perhaps you have your own bone to pick with God? Perhaps it’s time to tend the altar of your own trampled heart and broken faith. To clear the air of every grievance.
Maybe this is the moment to find your way home, my friend—once again—to a deeper honesty; and then to forgiveness; to loving life on life’s terms; to gratitude for it all just as it is.