(Starting from this post whenever I write about a “study conversation” I’ll put the book learning in italics and the comments made by my friend and myself in the course of our studying in plain script.)
It makes perfect sense to acknowledge good done to us. What causes us to be ungrateful? It goes back to Adam and Eve. Adam didn’t say “I know I shouldn’t have eaten from the tree. I’m sorry.” Instead he said “It’s all because of this woman you gave me.”
Apparently the context of wrongdoing makes people more likely to be ungrateful. They have to find someone to blame. Gratitude goes hand-in-hand with being accountable. Just as “joy” is paired with “efficiency” and “tolerance” is paired with “patience” this too (gratitude-accountability) is one of those pairs of character traits we might not put together until we take a deeper look at the meaning. This type of gratitude – refusal to take responsibility – shows up in our relationship towards God.
What process is going on when people are ungrateful towards other people? There are two things going on. One is the core belief: “Everything should go right for me. I deserve… “When we’re small we are taken care of. As we mature and grow in self-awareness we continue to believe all of our needs should be perfectly taken care of. “I must exist. I must be healthy and whole.” The second reason for ingratitude is the egotistical thought: “The world revolves around me. Everything is there only to serve me. Whatever people do for me is as it’s supposed to be.”
At the beginning of life needs and wants are the same. One of the factors that helps nurture the development of wisdom about life is the child seeing parents relating to each other and to their children from a place of thanks and not a place of “I deserve…”
It’s hard work to be weaned of this core belief and understand that there’s absolutely nothing we can take for granted. There is nothing at all that “I deserve.” Whatever gifts that come to us in life are pure kindness.
I can see how thinking this way would engender a very high level of appreciation. One thing bothers me, though. What about Channa? In the Biblical story Channa was unable to have children and she complained to God. She said “You gave me all of the physical characteristics it takes to nurse a child and raise a child. This is the way of the world! If you didn’t want me to have children then why did you give me breasts?!
Perhaps a direction to answering this is to say there are different reactions to tragedy. Some people say it’s so horrible it can’t be and shouldn’t be and other people say “It just is.”
There is the “way of the world” and the “way of the perfect world.” When people say it’s not the “way of the world” for parents to lose children, we can look around and see that’s not true. Unfortunately it is the way of the world. But the perfect world that we’re hoping and praying for would not look like this. That’s what they’re latching on to when they say it’s not the way things are supposed to be, like Channa when she complained to God.
There’s a paradox in saying we can insist that someone take responsibility in giving us what they owe us or even demand something from God while at the same time feel whatever we’re given is pure kindness. No one had to give us anything. God didn’t even have to give us life.
There’s a will to be free of what is painful. People who are suffering have a hard time saying “thank you” for life. It’s my job to recognize their pain. People often scoff at the pain of children. “What is he crying about? His sister is taking a turn on his bike. So what?” But to a one-year-old it’s equivalent to some stranger getting into my car without permission and driving off. On the other hand when I’m the one in pain it’s my job to live with the pain and be grateful for all the gifts I have.
If we would understand that we can’t take anything at all for granted and we would appreciate and recognize all the gifts God and people give to us as kindness, we would see that we are living in a world of kindness. When we are not aware of this the world is gray. Everyone sits in his little cubbyhole “only” doing his job. The shop keeper, the doctor, the teacher all only want to make money. There is no kindness or friendship in such a world. No!
We want to live in a world of kindness, a world brimming with love and friendship! This is the world we create through acknowledging goodness to everyone who gives us anything.
It’s easier to see what causes pain and I guess that’s why we keep sliding into that subject. But when we can see what’s good it increases the quality of life.