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As embarrassed as I am to admit this, I have a confession.
At times I struggle with gratitude. Sometimes despite knowing that I have so much to be grateful for, despite wholeheartedly declaring my gratitude time and time again, there are days when I find that my actions say anything but "thank you" and I just don't feel thankful.
As a mother who strives to cultivate a spirit of gratitude in my own children it's difficult to come to terms with this fact.
One of my biggest gripes I have at home is when my children, even my spouse, seem ungrateful—when I feel like I've given my heart and soul to fulfill a need (or want), and rather than a thank you I get groans, complaints or even silence. It can be a heartache when don't feel appreciated after we sacrifice dreams, time, finances, career advancement for something we desperately believe in, when we give so much up to be able to give the very best of ourselves to our loved ones.
Yet the reality is, in the grand scheme of things, I know that my family is grateful. It's just that sometimes those feelings of gratitude can get lost in the murky waters of excess or personal struggles or the feeling that something just isn't enough.
I see stories of tragedy after tragedy, and I feel like a jerk for having the audacity to complain for more.
To admit that even I struggle to give thanks is humbling and eye-opening. And I can't help but wonder if my Heavenly Father feels the same ache I feel when my children aren't thankful.
A part of me feels as though I just can't be alone in this. I've read countless books on gratitude leading me to believe that this is a universal struggle. Our eyes aren't always quick to "look for the lovely." Our lips aren't always as quick to give thanks as they are to grumble. It's as if we're trained to hone in on the flaws, and once we identify them we become fixated on them.
So we write lists highlighting all the various things we're thankful for from the extraordinary to the mundane. We have Instagram challenges like #grateful #blessed, and we devote each day of November to expressing our gratitude online and in real life.
As I've matured I've noticed the common thread weaving those bouts of un- thankfulness together. It's that sense of longing that tugs at me at 3 a.m. when I find myself unable to fall asleep after responding to my 3-year-old's cries, or when I let out a huge sigh in the bathroom stall before heading back into the office, or as I scroll through Facebook updates and Instagram images, wondering if I'm doing life wrong.
It's the fact that I still have days when I question my decisions and wonder if perhaps it's time to realign my dreams. It's my tendency to look at my list of goals and notice the unchecked boxes first. It's that I want so badly to know the outcome of my choices before I make them because I so desperately want to make the right ones.
It's the fact that despite being told that I—we—can't have it all, I kind of want it all. OK, maybe not all but I want more, and there are some things that I wish could have been different, too.
My struggle with gratitude rests in the fact that I haven't fully grasped onto an ability to be content in all things or to let go of others—not even after declaring that content would be my word for the year in 2014 (clearly this is not a new struggle for me).
Perhaps one never fully masters gratitude.
And then I read a story about a mom dying, a mom who would give anything to live even at the risk of heartaches and unrealized dreams. I read about a parent who wouldn't get to hold her baby in her arms tonight. I see my Facebook feed filled with stories of tragedy after tragedy, and I feel like a jerk for having the audacity to complain for more when what I have been blessed with is so good.
But I'm also learning that perhaps one never fully masters gratitude. It isn't like learning to walk or knowing when to take your chocolate cookies out of the oven for that perfect softness. It's a skill that must be practiced again and again. It's like working out. No matter how good of shape you're in, once you stop eventually your abs will soften and you'll have less endurance.
The more I practice looking for the lovely the easier it is to see it the next time I'm knee-deep in my sorrows. And the next.
Today I found it in my 3-year-old's arms wrapped tightly around my neck and my tween who still leans in for a kiss during morning drop off. I found it in the hot cocoa my husband brought home because he knows how much his girls love hot chocolate.
I haven't quite figured out how to come to terms with the longing, and if it's something that I need to stop or that will always be a part of life. But I do know when I make a conscious effort to choose thankfulness I'm making the decision to say that this—this achingly beautiful life I have been given—is enough, good and worthy of gratitude.
As for that sense of longing and wanting for more? I think it pushes me to keep moving. Right now I'm at the part where I just have to trust that I will end up right where I'm supposed to be while making every effort to make the most of where I am.