A few years ago, a friend was talking about the role of adversity in life, and he quipped, “So you made plans and they worked out—not much spiritual growth there.” He was channeling every coach I’ve ever had—ever. Everyone knows that the key to anything is pressing through challenge and adversity. We know because we’ve breathed it in and lived it until it echoes through our lives. At least it echoed through the first half of my life. Now in midlife, I realize that no one ever mentioned the cumulative effect of challenge and adversity. Most things in life don’t resolve like games with scores or school terms with grades. In fact, a good portion of things in life don’t resolve at all—they just transform into an ongoing load of wear and tear.
These days, a lot of my life seems to be about avoiding the wear and tear of life, and entire industries fill the gap for people like me who are dealing with the abrasion and corrosion of lives that fit our spirits imperfectly. Right now, though, the pandemic is spreading on a nice thick layer of weariness and worry for everyone. Everyone’s life hurts at least a little right now—just in time for the season of gratitude.
Most Thanksgiving seasons, I’ve tended to dance around how I was uncomfortable with feeling grateful because things were easy a lot that past year. I was worried, I suppose, that superficial gratitude would make me seem shallow to myself, and I didn’t have much conquered adversity to brag about, anyway. In retrospect, though, huge shifts were happening for me with plenty of challenge and adversity. In the past decade we relocated here, we bought a house, I left grad school, I became a stay-at-home dad, I tried (and failed) to become a deacon, I started learning a new trade, my kids had all their kid stuff going on, my spouse started a business, I became a spiritual director, I started working part time, and on and on. That’s plenty of murky and messy challenge and adversity—or maybe it’s better seen as wear and tear. Honestly, it’s tough to say; either way the growing edge for me has become making plans and trusting that if I invest, things may indeed work out.
The practice of gratitude invites us to be thankful in the midst of things that aren’t easy. I’ve received an unexpected gift from the pandemic; I’m grateful to be less worried about feeling shallow to myself now. This year, I’m grateful to be alive, and I’m grateful that stuff is happening in person again—like my daughter playing with her orchestra, and my son being back in school. I’m grateful for my wife’s work, and for my own, and how the roof doesn’t leak and we have enough to eat and it’s warm inside when it’s cold outside.
I’m grateful that I get to take a break from crazy politics sometimes and I’m grateful for spiritual practices and for the chance to worship in person again. It’s nice to lose myself in my work once-in- a-while, and I still get a kick out of how my dog thinks I’m a great guy. I’m grateful that my brother found a new life partner, and I’m glad that I get to talk with him once or twice a week.
In truth, many of my days run a little bit humdrum—fixing things and cleaning stuff—but some days it goes well, and I’m grateful for that. Some days this past year even lifted me up and carried me along, and even though it was nothing exotic, it sure was nice to be there and be a part of everything, and the wear and tear of life kind of fell away.
And it doesn’t feel shallow at all to feel grateful that, on those days, things worked out.