I make a left on Main Street, and there amid a throng of a decidedly urban crowd I see them; three nuns in blue habits smiling radiantly at the world. I stop short, and catch my breath…juxtaposing signs of contradiction never grow old. Maybe it’s the visual, concrete witness – it pricks my heart and conscience and I am stirred with that holy, transcendent longing to be just that; a sign of contradiction that stands out from the world; a life set apart, a life bathed in prayer and united to Christ in peaceful joy.
My focus is pulled suddenly back to the not-so-monastic cell of my mini-van, when the noise from the backseat escalates, and I glance in my rear-view mirror just in time to catch a brother slug another brother. I feel the frustration rise all too readily, anxiety taunting me as I worry how I will manage this brood while daring the grocery store aisles.
As a mom, I face chaotic, unsettling situations daily. My soul grows tired, and I feel the strain of the needs presented. So many times, I feel far from the place of holiness and prayer because I am prone to worry, anxiety, and even resentment. I wander into uncertainty and grow restless. So many times, I just want a little peace…I truly desire to be set apart from the world, and know what transcends the trials. I want a breakthrough right in my mini-van – to be able to get through to the other side of my wrestling. And then, to enter that place I long for most – holiness; that place of prayer and communion with the lover of my soul.
I have found there is a way through – a door if you will, and that door is marked by deliberate gratitude.
How easy it is for me to forget…gratitude is a matter of intentional obedience. The psalms are filled with exhortations: [to] Thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man (107:8); Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving; Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17). An “attitude of gratitude” isn’t just a slogan, it’s a command meant to lead us into our holy calling.
Motherhood requires costly gratitude. Hard gratitude. The kind that trusts that he is working for our good even in exhausting, menial, monotonous, or even heartbreaking circumstances . . . A kind that is contradictory and set apart. But it is the counter-intuitive act of gratitude that garrisons our troubled moments, and anchors our minds and hearts with inexplicable peace, and unites us to the call of joy in Christ.
I think of those sisters in their blue habits walking in the gray streets of downtown. They put on their habits every day. . . to be a sign of contradiction to the world. We mothers have to put on the habit of thanksgiving, because we too, have embraced the call to be signs of contradiction. A daily habit of gratitude is the purest, most appropriate response—it fosters a posture of humility and wonder that allows us to receive the saving and keeping grace of God.
Every time I am called to become a conduit of peace with my boys, I thank God for the gift of counsel and understanding. Every time I brave Sam’s with kids in tow, I thank God my children are not hungry. Every time I change my baby’s diaper, I thank God for his beautifully vigorous body. Every time I want to just pull my hair out, I thank God he has given me six, uniquely opposite children, each stretching my heart in profoundly poignant ways. Every time I engage in hard conversations with my adult children, I thank the Lord for the glorious reality that they have a personal, wild, holy path of their own leading them to the heart of God.
It is this kind of intentional gratitude that ushers us into that assuring place of God’s presence . . . it draws us close to the heart of our all-knowing God. His commands for us are never tyrannical. Like a good father, he wants to invite us to himself. We have this opportunity to draw near to him at any moment – night or day. Psalms 69:30 says, Magnify him with thanksgiving. And it is when we magnify the Lord, that we increase our depth perception of him who knows our name, counts the hairs on our head, and manifests his love for us by giving grace upon grace.
Gratitude as a practice paves the way to his presence, and his presence paves the way to joyful peace and union with Christ.
Do not be anxious about anything, the apostle Paul wrote, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).