What I meant to say

As a writer, I always have ideas and plans and words swirling around in my head, but sometimes, when I actually sit down to write, I forget details I meant to say. Last week’s post is a perfect example.

In talking about resolutions, I wanted to delve into whether our resolutions arise from a sense of lack or a sense of gratitude, but I completely forgot about adding that part in as I sat writing the post. Happily, I remembered for this week’s post.

In thinking of resolutions within the framework of gratitude, an example may help. For instance, if I say that I want to run faster this year, I need to determine whether that desire stems from a feeling that I’m inferior to other runners and should try to catch up or a more healthy desire to challenge myself with a new discipline and goal because I’m running well at my current level but am also blessed with the feeling that I could get even better. Do you see the difference? To the outside world, the result looks the same, but what’s at the heart will determine whether my plan to get faster is worth pursuing.

Toward the end of December, I came across two different discussions about the concept of gratitude that made me think about how and why we make resolutions.

The first came in a newsletter for ZOE, an amazing organization whose mission is “helping orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.” ZOE is all about empowerment instead of hand-outs: helping children gain skills and keep their families together through training and loans that forever change the trajectory of their lives.

I never read one of ZOE’s newsletters without feeling deeply moved and without taking away some piece of wisdom from the children themselves. In this newsletter, a ZOE participant in Mutare, Zimbabwe, said, “I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be enrolled in this great program. The elders have a saying, ‘Kusatenda Huroyi’ (it is a sin not to appreciate good things).”

His statement made me wonder how differently we would live if we embraced Kusatenda Huroyi, if we made it essential to appreciate the good in our lives, even the simple good, instead of taking so much for granted or assuming these things are our right to have.

This week alone, I’ve found myself grateful for (among many) a coat and gloves, a warm home, pipes that didn’t freeze, and a flexible schedule that allowed me to run when the polar vortex was not at its punishing worst. There’s a much longer list of things I’ve overlooked but should be openly grateful for.

The second place where I encountered a new take on gratitude was in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra. Perelandra is the second in Lewis’s space trilogy and takes place mostly on Venus (aka Perelandra), where the trilogy’s hero Dr. Ransom meets and converses with a beautiful lady, who, though she thinks of herself as young and naive, has a lot of wisdom to offer Ransom and us:

“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit
rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds
a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and
another is given. But this I had never noticed before—that the very moment
of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.
And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there.
You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of
turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you
could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.” (p. 59)

How often do I do that in my own life: barely register or even completely miss the good in my present circumstances because I’m so busy reaching for the “good thing” I’m expecting or hoping for? How often do I let my soul turn after the good I expected instead of the good I now have? How often do I make the real fruit in my life taste insipid?

So maybe “presence” needs to be my resolution for the year, a greater awareness that makes me recognize and acknowledge and celebrate all that is good in my life instead of endlessly fretting over the many supposedly better things that I want.

I’m not suggesting that you toss out your plan to run more miles this year or finally organize your closet or exercise at least three days a week or watch less television or whatever other resolutions you have made. I’m simply asking that you look at the why behind your resolutions to see if there are ways you might be missing the good that you have got.

One more thing before I go
By the way, if you’ve read Perelandra, I’d love to discuss it with you sometime (not here, of course, because I don’t want to ruin any surprises for its future readers). There are images that haunt me from it, usually revisiting me when I’m out running and thinking. It’s not action-packed, but it is a beautifully crafted tale.

Lewis had such a gift for capturing our imaginations with fundamental truths that resonate because we know them to be unerringly correct. He was a master at holding up the beautiful mirror to reality that was his fiction, and in so doing, revealing concepts to us that we might have ignored or misunderstood in his nonfiction. But I’m grateful that he wrote both.