For over a decade now, there has been a swelling movement toward gratitude in both scientific and Christian circles. Gratitude is held out as a panacea for emotional limitations ranging from materialistic dissatisfaction to genuine grief, and about two years into my journey with infertility I thought it also sounded like a realizable solution for my dissatisfaction with life. So many times, I had read – whether in summaries of research studies, quick-tip recommendations for lowering stress, or exhortations to achieve a joy-filled Christian life – about the benefits of being grateful. This was what my life had been missing! Despite my best efforts at months of diet, exercise, and supplementation I seemed incapable of fixing my problematic hormone levels, so the idea that practicing gratitude could fix my lack of joy sounded too good not to try.
So, I did all the things: I kept a gratitude journal, wrote down three things a day I was grateful for, intentionally looked for things to thank God for throughout my day. I was delighted to find that these efforts did help sift the good and beautiful more to the fore in my life, and those moments brought fresh happiness. I thought I had found the key to restoring joy in my life, but as the days and weeks turned into months, I had to reluctantly admit that this gratitude practice was not reaching deep enough to restore my joy or hope or faith in God’s goodness.
I concluded my approach was too narrowly scientific and secular, and so revisited Scripture and Church teachings on gratitude; however, this only made me feel like more of a failure in the realm of gratitude. The exhortation to “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18) felt harsh and unattainable as I entered a season of new loss and redoubled grief. I strove to be thankful in all things, but quickly discovered I had no gratitude reserves from which to pull any genuine positive sentiment.
My vision of a joy-filled existence swathed in gratitude was not coming together. Looking for things to be grateful for in my life had also led to an acute awareness of the numerous gaps left by my unanswered prayers. Instead of lightening the load, the gratitude imperative had added a compounding guilt because I was not feeling grateful enough. I was now a couple of years into my grappling with gratitude and not really any closer to unlocking the depths of simple joy I’d been led to believe would be found there.
So, I stopped trying to generate feelings of gratitude and tried to just show up. I showed up for prayer on the good days and the bad; I showed up to Adoration during the hard weeks and the easy ones; and I told God how I really felt, instead of how I thought I should feel. And little by little, there by His side, I discovered the secret of genuine gratitude: it is gift. It is a responsive movement of a heart that feels secure in His love, regardless of the circumstances.
Contrary to the message of the positivity culture around the gratitude movement, it is not all on us to cultivate feelings of gratitude. While it is certainly good to strive to foster a perspective of gratitude at all times, when grappling with the grief of infertility and miscarriage, human effort may be insufficient for generating expressions of gratitude on a deeper level. We need the gift of supernatural gratitude.
This gifted gratitude comes from drawing close to the Lord, even in the midst of hardship. The closer we come to Him, the better adjusted the lens with which we see the world becomes. It’s rarely instantaneous, but more a gradual softening of the heart towards the joys in our lives. Yes, it’s on us to choose to use this God-given lens for viewing the world, but we must rely on God to adjust the aperture. Coming near the Lord we pause and enter more deeply into the present moment with its complex realities both beautiful and painful, and bit by bit we come to better see and appreciate the blessings in our lives.
I have found that this new, richer gratitude often starts without feeling, much like faith. God provides us with the grace to express genuine thanks even in the hardest moments of our lives. Real gratitude is found when we draw our broken hearts close to Christ’s pierced side and find the strength to whisper thanks for Who He is and what He has done for us. Despite the unanswered prayers. Despite the grief we can’t fully shake. Despite the unknowns our future holds. Because it no longer matters that I don’t know what the future holds, because I know that He Who holds the future is also holding me. And I am grateful.
Bernadette has been married since 2018, works part-time as a technical research analyst, and resides in Ohio with her husband and Golden Retriever. She loves reading, baking, and watching sunsets from her kitchen stoop.