Trying to figure out what to write for Chapter 5 of God in the Yard has been like trying to describe music in terms of colors - I can do it, but I don't always feel like I'm talking about something real.
Gratefulness is hard for me, but not for the same reasons that it's hard for Barkat. It's not that I don't trust the sky. It wasn't until I put my thoughts from GitY together with a quote from Kathleen Norris's Acedia and Me. Norris says, "being rejected, I learned to reject."
I knew childhood rejection, and I resonate with the idea of learning there not to let the good things in. And so I stopped trusting, stopped thinking I could make friends and people would like me, stopped believing that I saw what was real. I became suspicious of people and scared of them, scared that they would pretend one thing and then become something else, scared that they would seem to like me but really wouldn't. And gradually I became suspicious of all good things, came to touch and embrace them tentatively, wondering if they would really be there when I needed them, wondering if they were really good, or if they would turn and bare their teeth when I needed to lean into them the most. I pushed away good because it hurt too much to have it turn into something else.
But there's more than that: I also pushed the good away because it wasn't, not even ever once, perfect. It was a lot of things, good things, even great things, but it wasn't perfect. And I was taught high ideals for experiences. I was brought into a world where things were supposed to go right, where it was normal to have high expectations and be disappointed, where ideals were extolled and everyone, including myself, felt like they fell short all the time, felt like they ruined otherwise "perfect" moments with their self and their mess.
So I also learned to reject the good because it wasn't the perfect, to not be grateful for what I had because it wasn't the best I could imagine and it wasn't what I wanted it to be. I learned to be disappointed with the good because it wasn't the best. I learned to be picky instead of happy, frustrated and disappointed instead of satisfied and full.
Between the two, it's hard to overcome. It's hard to trust the good, to trust that God is good and that the things he puts into my hands aren't going to bite me. And then it's hard for gratefulness to not feel stifled or stilted, because I'm trying to be grateful for things that still don't seem good enough to me.
The first of these is the most painful. It's hard to trust, hard to believe that things can be different than they once were, that it's ok for me to wonder and wonder and wander and wonder some more. It's hard for me to want to reach out and embrace something when I'm afraid it has spines on the bottom instead of a tender underbelly.
But the other is the most damaging, I think. It takes them joy out of even good things, things that I love. And it's always there, sitting at the back of my mind, wondering why things couldn't be just a little different, wondering what would make this better, wondering if I'll ever by as happy as I want to be, wondering why I have to make do with these small goods in my hand when I see so many other, bigger goods that could be.
The first makes it hard to embrace good things, but the second makes it hard to WANT to, and that seems more harmful and dangerous in the long run. It's one thing to reject out of fear, and another to reject out of pride, to say, "That's all well and good, but it's not good enough for me." The second brings on the feeling that good is never going to come the way I want it to, so I may as well just reject it and be done, and then resign myself to never having anything as good as I want it. I may as well just decide that I'm never going to be happy, that things will never be the way I want them to be, and live anyway,
But that allows me to nurse my pride, to nurse a dissatisfaction with the world that means joy can't come in, that's self-watchful instead of self-giving, and I don't want that, either.
And so I end this chapter feeling stuck. Not hopelessly stuck, but at least momentarily so. I suppose that's the good thing about envisioning life as a journey: you just keep walking, even when you don't know where to go next. And eventually, God leads you to victory, whether in this life or the next.