Spirituality is a powerful term encompassing a way of thinking about, feeling, and living in the world. Essential to spiritual life is mindful thinking and experiencing the many different aspects of human existence and conscious interaction with others and our environment. With a spiritual view of life, we can see the divine in the mundane, the miraculous in each and every day, the extraordinary in the ordinary. This new monthly series will focus on the spiritual power of common words and the concepts they represent. This month’s word is GRATEFULNESS.
The Mundane Meaning of Gratefulness
Gratefulness is defined as being “appreciative of benefits received”. We feel grateful when someone remembers our birthday or does something nice for us unexpectedly (or regularly). We feel grateful when a problem is solved with less struggle than anticipated or for certain people in our lives when they do something to remind us “to” appreciate them. Gratefulness happens on a daily basis, in small and large examples. But what does it mean to be “spiritually grateful”?
The Spiritual in Gratefulness
Spiritual gratefulness is intentionally conscious; we engage gratefulness at a deeper, more profound level when we select to be grateful about some aspect of our life that passes by daily mostly unobserved unless a problem occurs. Every so often, I remind myself to be grateful for modern plumbing, and more specifically, that the plumbing in my house is working properly today and has worked properly most of the time I have lived here.
Modern plumbing gives us many things to be grateful for, especially when linked with modern heating and cooling. Most of us can go to the bathroom in the comfort of regulated temperatures instead of extreme heat or cold. Not only does the plumbing help expel waste, but it also helps bring in fresh water to drink and bathe in. At least once a month I focus some of my spiritual gratefulness on the many modern conveniences of my life, especially the plumbing. Gratefulness is an antidote to “taken-things-for-granted” privilege that so often has people “losing their minds” when something goes wrong with modern convenience.
My father was a general contractor and built houses in the state of North Carolina from 1980 to 1997 and I worked for him as a teenager and young adult from 1983 to 1989 while in high school and throughout my undergraduate degree at college. I learned how the plumbing was installed in a house and how water from a well or the city got pumped into a home. I am grateful for this knowledge because it keeps me from panicking when something goes wrong with the plumbing. I know where all the shut-off valves are for the main point of entry and all the sinks and toilets. You should too.
Gratefulness about modern convenience should encourage you to know the fundamentals of the many things you use daily in order to appreciate them more. When my daughter was old enough, I took her outside and showed her the main water line, where the city workers open the junction box and look at the meter for use, and where the main shut off valve is leading into the house. There is also one under the house, which, for us, is easy to get to because we have a half basement. I let her shut off the water and then go inside and test the consequences by turning on a sink faucet. We turned the main back on and I showed her the hot and cold shutoffs under the sinks, the shut off for the toilets, and the ones for the washing machine. She enjoyed learning it so much that she showed her friends when they came over. One of our worst “sins” is taking miraculous things, like plumbing, for granted, forgetting to remind ourselves how grateful we should be for this system of water delivery and waste removal.
Gratefulness for What is Hard
Have you had your heart broken? I would have said yes when I was younger, but now I know I have only really had it beaten up pretty badly, twice leading to a long period of depression and anxiety that required some modern medicinal help to manage, which was more necessary because I was not living a spiritual life at those times. As I ventured further and further into my spiritual development, I eventually became grateful for those painful episodes. Loss, heartache, anxiety, and depression are all teachers, as much as joy, gain, love, and excitement.
In the moment of loss, gratefulness can be nearly impossible to embrace, but it may prove to be there and show itself later on when there is a distance from the painful moment. I have learned to be grateful for the relationships that failed because they have taught me some of the most important insights about making relationships successful, truly successful, not just “we have slugged it out for 30 years, look at us go”, but quality before quantity. I often say to clients, “nobody gets their character tested when things are going their way”. A mundane concept often becomes spiritual because it helps us see the gift in adversity.
Did I enjoy being betrayed in a relationship with someone I deeply loved? Certainly not. But I sure am grateful that she is not in my life now. If I had not found out and she had not chosen the other person, in the end, it would have been misery for both of us, and a lot of additional collateral damage to other people, namely her children and my child. Gratefulness for a benefit that is clearly a benefit is easy; gratefulness for a loss or harm that becomes or can be understood as a benefit is spiritual.
So, when you think about being grateful after reading this article. What can you see in your everyday life that you may now realize you need to be much more grateful and aware of in order to be more spiritually thankful and uplifted? What hardship from your past or, for a greater challenge, in your present do you need to be grateful for? What can you understand when looking through a “spiritually grateful” lens that you could not see when taking things for granted or while working through a painful process or loss? When we embrace the spiritual in the everyday, the everyday can be a bit brighter and more positive.