November…the illustrious month of gratitude. Isn’t it just so darned easy to be thankful when life is going according to our wishes and plans? There are times when we should feel gratitude for good health, happy family members, a comfortable lifestyle; and yet complacency can set in and we take it all for granted. Thanksgiving and Veteran’s Day present concrete reminders for everyone to count his or her blessings, so it’s always important to be cognizant of the areas of abundance in our lives.
These times of good fortune, however, do not provide the substance that creates a hero in us. For some people there are truly dark periods of life when it seems completely impossible to be grateful for anything at all. When it feels like you are drowning in fear or grief over a health crisis, struggling family member, financial crisis, failed relationship, or any number of other traumatic events, it looks like things will never, ever improve. You’re alone, drifting in a huge sea of despair. It would be trite, even insulting, to suggest that you should practice gratitude during these times when it’s all you can do to put one foot in front of the other and get through each day. Indeed, there are always things to be grateful for if we really dig deep. But when things are at their worst, there is one thing to try to remember, and that is that nothing lasts forever. No, unfortunately not all negative situations completely resolve to positive ones, but everything does go through cycles, and even catastrophes have expiration dates. And about that gratitude…
The worst of challenges create the strongest warriors. Through the darkness emerge warriors of compassion, warriors of grace, warriors of strength and resilience. Difficulties can forge us into diamonds that cannot be compared to those who haven’t walked through hell on earth. We can come out on the other side and wear those hard-fought challenges as badges of honor! And we can be grateful for the transformation in ourselves. There is reward and pride in self-growth. New problems can be put into proper perspective. After you go through dark times, many things that once felt impossible or traumatic just don’t anymore. You’ll have a healthier viewpoint to work from. You’ll be wiser, stronger, and you’ll live with more grace. It may not seem like much consolation in the depths of adversity, but you will make it to the light at the end of the tunnel, and you’ll have been transformed.
In the meantime, it is important to be grateful for the small things because even the slightest shift in mindset can create positive results. Maybe you can be thankful for the lessons you have already learned through the darkness. And maybe there are people who have supported you for whom you are grateful. Sometimes difficulties bring out the purest form of love in people, and you’ve gotten to see that in someone who has previously caused you pain. Or maybe you can be thankful for something simple that brings you joy, and you will allow yourself to experience it. Music and light-hearted movies can temporarily transport us to happier places. Hot baths and comfort foods can sooth us for a little bit. Self-care isn’t a luxury during the most challenging of times, it’s actually a life raft that can advance us just a little bit closer to finding our way out.
If you’re in the midst of one of those most-difficult journeys, hang on. That hero uniform is waiting for you on the other side. In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”