“Go sit on a chair and look at the sky,” she said, “and thank God you don’t have a pain.”
I laughed aloud when I read this quote. Because I feel your pain, J.R..
I come from a family where you must always be thanking God for what you don’t have. In other words: I was brought up to think that in addition to the long list of items I should be thanking God for, I had to thank Him for not having the opposite of those things. (And yes, I use Him with a capital H. It’s a throwback to my Catholic school girl days. I really don’t see God as having a gender. But I contest that no female would have created bad hair days and lengthy childbirth. Except maybe as a constant in one level of hell.)
Among those items I was supposed to be thankful for avoiding: a bad reputation (oh, my mother was a fan of this one). Cancer. Pneumonia. Bad grades. A poor complexion. Holey clothes and starvation—I’m not sure if these two always come in a pair but when my parents mentioned them, they coupled them every darn time.
Backwards, I know. Meh. We were Catholic. Good at guilt.
And I somehow got the feeling that if I was not up to snuff on my lists, one of Those Awful Things You Don’t Want would appear in my life. Forgetting to thank God that I didn’t have pneumonia meant my chronic croup would suddenly turn into a deadly disease.
I look back now and want to ask my parents why neither of them told us to ask God for bodacious bounty. To thank Him in advance for all the great things coming our way.
It’s just not the way things were done in our family.
We don’t tend to ask for things and hand it over to God. Oh, we might say we do. Some of us might even succeed at this some of the time. But as a regular gig? Nah. Not so much.
Instead, we worry. God forbid we ask for too much. And when the mediocre or crappy comes our way, we say, “Well, it could be worse.” We mumble about “not so bad” and “at least I’m not going through what poor Mindy is experiencing” and sad little similar bits.
We seem to be thanking God that we don’t have a pain.
Instead, we could be getting out there celebrating our good health by playing tennis or learning to samba. Rejoicing in our good fortune by toasting to the raise we boldly asked for and received. Whooping it up because it is Friday night and we feel good just to be alive.
True joy, true freedom, means being able to ask for your good and know the answer that comes back has nothing to do with deservedness. It might have to do with a larger divine plan that your tiny human brain cannot fully fathom, but it does not have to do with you being or not being one of the Chosen Ones.
I have one sister who fought cancer and four who have not had to face that hurdle. She is equally as deserving, prayed equally as hard, tried to live by the book. Maybe that last bit is actually what didn’t serve her well, in the end. Who knows?
We want to ward off the undesired. And some of us, as enlightened as we think we are, still think of receiving what we don’t want, didn’t ask for, as punishment.
Sometimes, it is a gift. Wrapped with awful, tacky bows and stinking like Limburger cheese, but in the end—a gift. For our growth or that of those around us. The courageous among us find our joy in the midst of such unwanted gifts.
I remember dinner conversations as a teen in which I wanted to crawl out of my skin because we spent 20 minutes discussing someone’s cancer. The ins, the outs, the probabilities, the horror of it. I never understood this morbid fascination with dodging the bullet.
I would rather be dancing to my own beat, unaware the bullet is in my general vicinity. That is what true joy is all about; being wrapped in the moment, bullet or no bullet.
I will not thank God that I don’t have a pain.
But I will thank him for the music I dance to and the beautiful, fully alive people making it. And perhaps the margarita waiting for me back at my table.