Gratitude handed me a shovel
I walked the store aisles in January looking for a new journal and a calendar. The bulletin boards, decorative pictures and notebooks seemed to shout at me, “Dream it, plan it, live it! Crawl, walk, run! Make it happen!”
The jury is still out on whether I attended my own personal pep rally or was mocked by the home and office decor. Based on the facial expressions of others nearby, they too were trying to determine if we were surrounded by friends or foes. Except for one woman wearing red glasses and denim capris. She was definitely feeling the love from the peppy action verbs and happy fonts. It was like the items were waving pompoms, jumping up and down excitedly and calling her name. She may have even fist bumped a sequined file organizer that said “Ready, Set, GO-AL!” as she plucked it off the shelf and put it in her shopping cart.
At the start of each year emotions and mindsets range from enthusiastic and hopeful to defeated and discouraged. And then there’s the realistic optimist who shoots for the stars nearest the earth’s orbit with one foot firmly on the ground. This person seems to effectively split their gaze between the sky, which we all know is the limit, and the ground-level challenges that exist.
A close friend of mine has a very practical outlook on self-reflection and yearly goal setting. She reasons that even if she’s waving a white flag of surrender by the end of April, she’s still had four months of moving forward instead of backward. She doesn’t let the uncertainty of whether the course can be perfectly stayed through all four seasons keep her from going after good things. This approach invites progress, even if intermittent, and appears to keep the all-or-nothing paralysis at bay.
The all-or-nothing approach can be the carrot that pushes us to surpass all expectations or the stick that tempts us to create our own Pit of Despair, as endured by Buttercup’s sweet Wesley.
All-or-nothing goal setting (and keeping) doesn’t work for me. It seems to cause anguish during the goal setting process and require sackcloth and ashes when progress is not made as planned. Plateaus serve as goal obituaries and determined, all-or-nothing types gladly play the role of funeral director, mortician and all eight pallbearers. And we can do this all by ourselves, thank you very much. We’ll wear black for the rest of the year, even if the sounds of Auld Lang Syne have barely faded.
When setting personal goals for 2018, I wondered if it was acceptable to resurrect ones from past years and simply change the date. Because I have a graveyard of goals to choose from, a new notebook with a shiny cover that says “I’ve got this,” and, most importantly, Gloria Estefan’s Get on Your Feet is on my new playlist.
What is it that keeps us from try, try, trying again if at first we don’t succeed? A paragraph in a goal planning workbook caught me by surprise this year because it described a beast I thought had been tamed. A wild thing that often keeps me from trying again.
“Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s the thief of everything. Keep your eyes on your purposeful path. Celebrate others. Celebrate progress, not perfection. Cultivate gratitude over comparison.” Lara Casey, Cultivate What Matters
Comparison growls softly at first and often goes unnoticed when we scroll through social media feeds, talk to neighbors, coworkers or fellow church goers. It bares its teeth a little and arches its spine when news spreads of promotions, houses, raises, book deals, relationships, weddings, baby bumps or whatever it is that isn’t ours. It circles and waits to see if we’re what’s for dinner. Will we put aside the sting of what we lack and choose to celebrate progress even if it’s not ours? Will we choose gratitude?
As I tried to set goals for the year, it was clear I was putting myself on the dinner menu. There were tears of self-pity, jealousy and defeat. I may as well have poured Emeril’s homemade steak sauce all over my head and curled up on a large white plate. After the tears eventually subsided there was another decision to be made.
Gratitude was still an option. It’s always an option because we can rest in the love of God which David tells us endures forever (Psalm 136). And that love is available even on the days when we’ve chosen comparison over gratitude. That love is unconditional and soothes the wounds of comparison. In fact, when we step into God’s love, it is sure to produce gratitude in us.
Gratitude is a secure place from which to dream and set goals. Gratitude brings freedom from keeping up with the Joneses, the Smiths or whoever it is that seems to have it all or be able to do it all. Gratitude slays the beast of comparison and hands me a shovel to raise long buried pursuits from the dead and try again.
Gratitude tempers all-or-nothing and finds joy and purpose in the midst of plateaus. Gratitude celebrates progress and lets go of perfection. Gratitude celebrates others and builds camaraderie where there might have been rivalry.
Thank God for gratitude.
The perfect choice for home office décor this year might be a wall of bulletin boards dedicated to gratitude, a shovel hanging above my desk, and an empty bottle of Emeril’s homemade steak sauce. Because dinner is no longer being served.