Thursday, January 24, 2013


A few days ago a kind man shared some advice with me. The advice was given in love, and came from a place of understanding.  This man lost his son to suicide a few years ago, and was trying to comfort me in my grief.  He shared with me some advice about a mother who lost her child and sought counsel from a religious leader.  The leader listened to the mother in her mourning and grief and then said she should be grateful that she had a child, and to think of those women who are unable to have children.

I have been thinking about this anecdote all week.  I'm not sure what the source is, or if the story was told correctly, but I understand the point. The point, I think, is to be grateful.  Be grateful for what you recognize that you are blessed even in the midst of trials.  Gratitude is a principle I believe in, but true gratitude seems somewhat twisted by this story.  I keep thinking about the story because it feels wrong to me on some level.

Gratitude is not born of comparison. Teddy Roosevelt said that "Comparison is the thief of joy." I believe that is true whether we are comparing ourselves to individuals we consider to be "above" us or those who seem to be "below" us.  Comparison robs us of joy because it forces us to rank ourselves on some imaginary scale of happiness, when no such scale exists.  Happiness is not linear, it's not a ladder to be climbed.  It is more fluid like water.  It moves around us and through us.  Sometimes it fills us, and sometimes we thirst for it.

When I traveled to Africa with a humanitarian group I was unprepared for the abundant joy I found among starving women and children. These children would be considered at the bottom of the happiness ladder by many.  They were experiencing the trials of death, and starvation, and sickness.  Yet they sang when they greeted us and smiled freely.  They were simply grateful, and their gratitude was not tied to the prosperity and health of others.

I don't believe we can rank life's adversity.  Sometimes I find myself trying to evaluate someone else's pain in comparison to my own...would it be harder to lose a child to an accident in infancy, or to a drug overdose in adulthood? Is it harder to miss someone after a lifetime of memories, or to be left with only 14 short months of joy to remember?

People often tell me that losing a child is the hardest trial. I have come to the conclusion that it is all hard.  Wanting children and not having them is hard.  Being alone is hard.  Nursing a parent through old age and death is hard.  Cancer is hard.  Divorce is hard.  Watching your child die is hard.  It is all hard, it is all pain, and finding respite in someone else's suffering is short lived and ultimately extremely unsatisfying. As I grow older and understand more fully the pain of others my heart aches more, not less. 

Since losing Jonah I have discovered that it is possible to feel gratitude in the midst of darkness.  Gratitude brings with it a light and recognition that my life remains full of mercy and grace, even though I have lost someone so precious to me. But gratitude should be able to stand on it's own two feet.  I am grateful for food, because it nourishes me and gives me strength.  I am grateful for my home because it is a refuge and place of safety.  I am grateful for Jordan because he strengthens me and loves me with all of my weakness.  I am grateful that I had the chance to feel Jonah grow inside me and to be his mother because it was a transcendent experience.

My gratitude for these things is not increased in the lack of others. On the other hand I'm learning that my gratitude is not, or should not, be diminished because I desperately want things that others have. 

Gratitude is an illogical response to a world that never had us in mind as an audience; but it is the fitting tribute to an original Creator who anticipated our joy and participates fully in it.  from The God Who Weeps.


  1. I was thinking about you this week and stop by here and find a post that has been in my thoughts, as well. I love what you're saying. Yet another reason to not compare ourselves to others. I want to teach this gratitude to my own children, but it's hard to do it without comparing what they have that others don't--and yet I still don't want to do it that way. I have my own contemplating to do on how to help them, but it may have to be something they mostly learn on their own, like so many things in this life. It's through experience that we understand.

  2. You are my hero. Thank you. This was just what I needed.

  3. Amazing! I love you, Julie! We saw Wicked last night and I was so moved once again as I listened to "Because I knew you." I was instantly reminded that your path and mine crossed on purpose and how blessed I am because I know you. Jonah will forever be a hand print on my heart.

  4. ...and gratitude for loss, seeing it for the gift that it is as well as the pain that we suffer because of it...

  5. You are so good Julie. I wish you well and keep you in my prayers. Thanks for great reminders. Diane Poulson

  6. Julie,
    This is so beautiful. I feel the spirit so much when I read your words. Keep writing, please! You teach us all.

  7. I think I've typed three different responses, then deleted them all before publishing. I guess all I really want to say is: Thank you for sharing with us. Your thoughts, your feelings, your experiences and insights truly, TRULY uplift and touch my heart - even when you have expressed frustration, discouragement, even anger (your dishes bashing post remains one of my favorites).

  8. I have read and re-read this post many times. It is beautiful and so true and makes me want to be kinder and gentler and more empathetic, loving and grateful.