After I posted Sunday afternoon, someone came up to me at our evening service and said something like, “Thanks for giving permission to the feeling of not being thankful. Truth is, I want to be thankful. I really do. I just haven’t figured it out. What am I missing?”
I can never give such a huge question a singular answer. Further, I am very skeptical towards those who do provide that answer. There are answers for sure, but ultimately they are found before God in prayer, Scripture, community and however else God chooses to show us grace. I’m grateful to be among the many pointing the way.
I shared this and my friend agreed but was looking for guidance, even adding that’s it tough to be thankful when everyone around you is so happy and then saying, “Everyone else’s life looks so much better than mine.”
This is a bad time to get caught up in the literalism of the statement. It’s a bad time to point out those who are clearly and arguably less fortunate in dealing with either poverty, illness, or a crisis. Yes, this individual had health, home and a sense of stability. But what I think he was really saying, “So many seem to be living a better life than mine and I’d be thankful to have a little more of that and bit less of this.”
The remainder of our conversation took a shape of its own and I asked the individual for permission to share some of this. As unpacking this a bit was helpful for me, and might be for you too.
First, I don’t know anyone who has a pain-free life. I literally do not know a single person that isn’t stress-free, pain-free, frustration-free, etc. I know people who pray/fight/search/work for their happiness, joy, strength and peace but I don’t know anyone who has it made. I know people who look like they got it made. In fact, every single person without exception who I thought had it made has forced me to think otherwise. Once I got close enough to every single one who I thought “It must be nice to be them,” I later thought otherwise. I truly believe that without exaggeration this is without exception.
I too, used to think there were these really blessed people whose lives I would love to have. I’ll avoid name-dropping here, but I particularly remember talking to someone who was relatively famous, relatively successful (In my sector anyway), admired, appeared to have financial security, probably liked what they saw in the mirror and probably enjoyed their family portrait. What’s more to have? Oh right, this person had, from what I could tell, a relationship with Jesus that appeared so wonderful, that on one of my bad days, I would try to steal it. To summarize, this person shared with me, “Honestly, it gets kinda lonely sometimes. I never know who to trust. Everyone around me, anyone I meet, I don’t really know who to trust and who is going to stab me in the back, I don’t know people’s true intentions when they are being nice to me and I can’t figure out who the genuine people are from the disingenuine. It’s hard to find authentic community …”
When he shared about his mistrust and loneliness, I wanted to encourage finding community but when he mentioned that he feels targeted and feels unable to lower his defenses, I could offer nothing but sympathy. I drove home remembering there is very little glamour to be found in life and this became an important life lesson for me as I processed this more and more. Our celebrities, our leaders, our artists, thinkers, creatives, all the beautiful people we’re told are “laughing their way to the bank” may not be as happy as they seem. To be sure, the misery of others provides no comfort to me, but it helps me see that we’re all in this together. We have different struggles, different pains, different joys. And strikingly, we have a number of similarities as well.
Every life having an element of pain, stress and tragedy has become for me, one of confirmations of the Christian narrative – everything in this world is broken and seeks redemption and wholeness. Again, to be clear, I am not grateful for the brokenness – we all hate this. This is not misery loves company, this is we are all in the same boat. And maybe at one moment the person next to you is smiling, maybe the next moment not so much. Maybe the person next to you envies you and while you were looking away, caught the site of you enjoying a moment of life. Maybe you were smiling through the pain, maybe you were smiling at a beautiful moment, we all wish we could enjoy life more – that’s universal. The lives of others may look better than yours. But maybe because no one knows you pain the way you do, and you can’t know someone else’s pain the way they do.
It’s at this point, I am supposed to say something like: “You have the life God wants you to have, don’t wish for someone else’s.” Which in my mind is a very unhelpful half-true. Indeed, we ought never to be envious or wish to have someone else’s life. But depending on what the first half of that sentiment actually means, I tend to think that God wants us to have a better life than we actually have. There’s a longer story there, but while God is not a genie existing to give us all we wish for, Jesus invites us to live a beautiful, abundant life.
It’s here where we can begin to get traction on experiencing identity, gratitude, and living at peace with ourselves. But before we can do that, it seems we need to stop assuming the person next to us has the life we want and consider that what we have is worth living in. May God give us the strength, the courage and the grace we need to be faithful with what we’ve been given.