Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Hula Hoop of Gratitude

Posted last month at Sturdy
On cloudy afternoons you can often find me sitting at my kitchen table sipping a cup of tea, my eyes glazed over with daydreams about travel.
I may be imagining a hobbit-style backpacking trip across New Zealand, a picnic on the beaches of Spain, or a motorcycle ride through Chile. And you can be assured that at some point I’m traveling via daydream to the Land of If Only. It’s one of my most frequented destinations.
If only I were making more money.
If only my body looked like it did in college.
If only I were married.
My visits to the Land of If Only leave me dissatisfied with my job, indifferent to the freedom of singleness, and oblivious to the ways my body opens me up to all sorts of pleasure. And yet I keep going back.
And with every trip, I accumulate more stamps in my passport.
— Ingratitude —
— Pride —
— Anxiety —
— Despair —
They’re all I have to show for my travels to the Land of If Only.
The aftermath of my trips isn’t unlike the aftermath of the first human trip to the Land of If Only, back in the Garden of Eden.
You could have more than you do; you could be more than you are, the Serpent hissed over Eve’s shoulder.
And Eve, she was blind to the sight of light dancing through the fragrant fruit trees in front of her. She was deaf to the sound of Adam walking through the garden, humming her a love song his actions had never contradicted. She had forgotten that just that morning she had laughed over a cup of coffee with God.
Instead, she ventured into the Land of If Only, doubtful of God’s goodness and determined that her ideas about what her life should be were better than his. Ingratitude reared its ugly head, pride fed it, and then the two of them wolfed down Adam and Eve's joy. And ever since, we’ve been fighting ingratitude, pride, and their accompanying misery.
My years of inhabiting a sick body have taught me that when I’m traveling the world via daydreams, I had better pack gratitude in my suitcase. Gratitude kills pride and is the key to contentment. It ensures that my imagination won’t take me to the joy-sucking Land of If Only.
And so I am learning the importance of noticing the good gifts of the present, and practicing the spiritual discipline of thanking God for those gifts.
I have found that taking time to play is one of the best ways to learn gratitude for God's goodness.
Every now and then you can find me and a few girlfriends traipsing across the park, hula hoops in hand. My friend Meg is a hula-hooper extraordinaire, so she gives us newbies advice:
“Pay attention to the way the hoop feels as it travels around your waist. With time your body will figure out how to keep it there.”
So I notice.IMG_1724
Around and around it goes.
In front.
To the side.
To the side.
Rolling slow and steady, rhythmic.
And then I notice how my chest rises and falls with my breaths,
the water in the hoop sloshes and swirls,
and the light creeps through the trees and lands on my shoulders.
And I feel thankful to be inhabiting this moment in my body.
IMG_4431Several weeks ago a friend and I discovered some caves while hiking. Delighted, we climbed up into crevices and inched across steep ridges. We played in the sand we found in one cave, and sang the Lion King’s “Circle of Life” on a rock platform in another. We became completely absorbed our play, fully engaged in the grace around us.
Our hearts didn’t race with anxiety.
Our minds weren’t preoccupied with worry.
Our bodies weren’t tense with stress.
And as we gloried contentedly in God’s vast playground and the bodies he gave us to explore it, we couldn’t help but feel grateful.
Regular play helps me notice the unparalleled joy of living in my body, in this place, in this moment, rather than fantasizing about the Land of If Only. When I laugh with delight, or feel the fuel of adrenaline, or experience the satisfaction of creativity, I’m mindful of the way God wired me with the capacity to enjoy these things. And so, with ever increasing eagerness, I open my arms wide to God's goodness, knowing that a daily embrace of his generosity is the passport to a life of joy. 
 © by scj

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