When Hope Feels Far and Gratitude Feels Hard

I know. I know.

I chose 2021 to write a book about gratitude and grateful living. To be honest, I spent 5 years writing that book… and for the most part, it was easy. The words flowed well. God felt close. I felt inspired.

Then, a few weeks before the first scheduled release (yes. first, it took me months to work up the courage to actually pull the trigger on that release because of what happened in round one), things fell apart.

Marriage felt hard. We lost 2 family members and a close friend within a month. Our kids seemed to have disappeared, replaced by screaming rebels that made us feel like we went terribly wrong somewhere. Prayer felt forced. Feeling grateful felt – at times – like a joke.

That’s cool. You wrote about gratitude? How are you living a grateful life?

Those are the thoughts that I felt on repeat in my head. I felt like a fraud. In fact, I stopped writing altogether.

Meanwhile, the friends I did share #Blessed with were sharing really cool stories with me. They had such kind words. Things that I felt God had called me to share were changing hearts and pointing people to him – which was the whole point.

But while all that happened. I sat in the background wondering if I had (newsflash: I don’t) any authority at all to share this stuff. I was bitter. Our family’s world was haphazard and shaky at best. Some days I wished the book hadn’t been published at all.

Bitter Might Not Be a Strong Enough Word

I said in that last paragraph that I felt bitter… but I’m not sure that’s actually a strong enough word. I felt hard inside.

And so, I did the only thing I knew what to do, which was to stop striving and doing anything at all on my own.

I asked God to help me control my tongue, which was getting pretty accustomed to spitting fire at my husband any chance I got.

I opened my Bible and kept reading each day, even when it felt convicting (another newsflash: sometimes it is supposed to).

But most importantly, I asked God to change my heart. I clung tighter to Ezekiel 36:26 than I ever had before (I mean… let’s be honest, if I’m clinging to scripture it’s often not the Old Testament prophets) and I asked God to take my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. And then I kept doing it. Every. Single. Day. Sometimes a million times a day. Because even when hope in this world felt shaky and walls were falling… I knew that God was bigger whether I could feel him or not.

I also got honest. We had missed a lot of our small group (we have many high risk family members and we’re still taking Covid one step at a time), but at our last meeting before the summer I shared that I had never felt more apathetic toward God and that I was struggling. These are people we’ve been with for nearly 5 years in small community and if I was going to try to open up – remember: introvert – this is where it needed to start. There weren’t any tears or breaking heart moments during this, it was just my reality… I’m not sure if they knew how hard it was for me to even share it because of my lack of emotion, but, for me, it was a big step.

I’m Not Touting a Magic Cure

I’m not telling you that I magically saw rainbows and that clouds lifted and that I felt on fire for God and his grace-abundant spirit, because I didn’t. I fully believe those moments happen. But, my walls had taken a long time to build… and they were going to take a long time to come down.

Instead of a crazy rush of an implosion, God slowly let cracks in my bitterness form. The process is still happening… but little by little, his light has come and is coming through. I feel him again (though I know with surety he never left). I see the world around me differently – after months of asking him to let me see others – including my own family – the way he does. He took – and is taking – my walls down slowly, the way they went up in the first place.

The thing I want to emphasize here is that YES, God COULD have ripped through my hardness and fixed it all as fast I could blink… but for his own reasons, he’s done it this way: slowly and surely… and for me, I couldn’t be more grateful.

In fact, through this season of publishing a book on gratitude and feeling like a fraud, feeling grateful for something – especially something as profound and life-giving as God’s grace and goodness – is absolutely amazing.

It doesn’t mean all is good and fine… to say so would be wrong. It would be a false representation of reality. It would take away the words I’ve posted on this blog, the thoughts in my book, and everything about the transparency I try to build in my day to day. But, knowing that he’s here, that he’s working, that he’s REDEEMING, and that he can take a heart of stone and make it flesh… for me, that’s enough.

I Hope it is For You Too

I don’t know what you’re facing today.

If you’re in my inner circle… I know some of you are dealing with back-breaking hard.

Maybe you’re dealing with loss. With hurt. With unfulfilled plans and dreams. With loneliness. With anger. With doubt… maybe with bitterness like I was.

I don’t know what your struggles are: I don’t know what is making it hard for you to feel grateful, or if you even believe that there is a Creator out there who knows your struggles, who made you to be who you are, and is by your side in the heaviest, hardest parts of your heart… but I know you’re not beyond redemption.

I know that in seasons of hurt, God draws us nearer to himself (we actually watched a sermon on this from our home church yesterday), even while the storms rage around us… and that he promises that he can be enough in the hurt.

We might not see the whole picture. We might not get rainbows and butterflies, even when it feels like everyone around us is swimming in them. But, we get hope.

If we open up our hearts and ask, he can chip away at whatever is separating us from him. He can use the hard for a greater purpose and story, the story that he’s been writing since the beginning of time, a part of which we prepare to celebrate as we enter this Advent season.

Hope isn’t far… even if we feel like we can’t feel it. This time of year, we just need to look toward that tiny manger in a place where hope also felt far away and remember the night that changed everything. That hope is still there. Maybe it’s ALL we have. But maybe that can be enough.

When gratitude is hard perhaps we just need to cling to truth… to ask for grace… and to draw near to the one who loved us enough to send his son to be the lamb that saves us all.

Can that be enough for you this year? If things are hard, can you lean into that truth and ask God to break down whatever you’re carrying? He is willing and he is able. That, my friends, is more than enough. That is the gratitude I’m living in this holiday season. Can you?

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