Interrupting with Gratitude

March 30, 2020
By: 
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Officer

Someone said to me yesterday that everyone needs a break from hearing about the pandemic. So, I scrapped my second draft of the April reflection and began a third; this is my fifth attempt. I’m not sure I can write a reflection without mentioning COVID-19 and how it has changed all of our lives in the last few days. I’m writing this one week after the first case was found in my state, and over the course of those seven days, everything changed. By the time you read this, almost two additional weeks will have passed and a new normal may be settling in, or everything might be topsy-turvy again. I don’t know what the world will look like, but I do know that anxiety, which has been simmering in our world, is now at a full boil.

“Interrupt anxiety with gratitude” is one of my favorite quotes because it is a powerful reminder that when we are feeling our feelings, we can interrupt them. It doesn’t solve the underlying cause of the feeling, but it can get us calm in our bodies to face it. One of my favorite children’s books is called A Little Spot of Anxiety. In this book, the anxiety spot shows children how to find our peaceful spot (by counting and breathing) when we are in the midst of feeling very anxious and how, once we are calm, we can deal with what is happening or simply see that it isn’t as big as it was getting. For me, when I am feeling most anxious is when I need to focus on gratitude. Gratitude is a reminder that I am enough, that there is enough (if we all share), and that each of us is a love letter from God to a broken and hurting world. Gratitude is a reminder to show up as that letter of love whenever possible in an attempt to heal brokenness and not add to it.

One of the ways I have taken to interrupting anxiety with gratitude is rooted in my approach to social media. I used to just mindlessly scroll through and like things. Recently, social media and my news apps began adding to my sense of anxiety and fear. Now, I try to find something to give thanks for in each post I read (especially when there’s a photo). Today, for example, I gave thanks that someone I know baked giant chocolate chip cookies that looked amazing; was grateful for a post reminding me that no one should be expected to operate at the same level they did a week ago (I know I am taking more breaks to go outside and notice … breathe … give thanks); was overjoyed to give thanks at the photo of a new grandchild welcomed into this world; and was appreciative of all the posts that provided ways to connect, from Mo Willems’ art sessions to the Cincinnati Zoo’s animal lessons. I give thanks for gifts shared freely and generously and the technology that makes it possible. I’m also thankful for the ways in which this has allowed me to connect.

Let me be clear: there are real reasons for anxiety right now that gratitude can’t fix, but if taking a breath and finding something to be thankful for allows us the space to deal with the problem and not just the resulting anxiety, then that might be enough. I know that I am personally thankful that we have each other, that wonderful reality of umbuntu: I am because you are, which binds us together, because together, we can get through all of this. Together, we are can take care of the least, the last, and the lost. Together, we can interrupt anxiety with gratitude if we simply embrace the gifts we can give and give them freely, while asking when we need help and reaching out to receive the gift of someone else who perhaps will also be less anxious knowing they can help us. Please know that I’m here praying and giving thanks for all of you. I hope you’ll keep connected with me, sharing those stories and images of gratitude that inspire and uplift others. I hope you’ll continue to reach out to others as a sign of God’s love, hope, grace, and joy. We might need to be six feet apart right now, but that doesn’t mean we need to be alone. Be gentle on yourselves, and remember to interrupt with gratitude.

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