Early in my years as a young mother, I learned something very profound - you can't be grateful, I mean truly grateful, and afraid at the same time. I stumbled upon this truth by necessity. Raising children provided plenty of situations to be concerned about, but I knew intuitively that fear would never help bring solutions to any of these situations, so I willingly turned to God in prayer. But sometimes the waves of fear were so overwhelming that I needed a tried and true handle to grab onto, at least to get the prayer started.
So I resorted to the first prayer I'd learned as a child - the active voicing of gratitude to God. My family practiced this prayer of gratitude all the time. In fact, we played what we called "the gratitude game." The rules of the game were simple. Players take turns expressing gratitude for anything of God's goodness that they see evidenced in their lives. You have to be sincere about what you say you're grateful for, and you can't repeat something anybody else has said. This last rule encouraged the magnification of every detail of the unending evidences of divine goodness in our lives.
The winner was ostensibly the one who could keep going the longest. But we all knew, in a sort of unspoken way, that in this game we were all winners, and we usually just stopped when we realized that the pain or fear or whatever was troubling us was gone in the face of feeling something more of God's ever-presence and omnipotence.
When I became a mother, I began to realize that gratitude and fear were like east and west on the compass. You can't go in both directions at once. If I faced fear and walked in that direction in thought, the fear was fed, and I became more embroiled in the problem. If I faced gratitude and walked in that direction mentally, the fear naturally receded, and I was led out of the problem to healing solutions. No matter how much seemed to be at stake, I found this rule to be true.
For example, one of our daughters, in high school, found herself in a very difficult situation. She was pregnant. One can only imagine all the difficult issues surrounding this situation, but it was gratitude that pulled us through. My daughter had decided to keep the baby and raise him, but she was unsure about marrying the father. The father's family very much wanted to stay involved. There was a multitude of things to be afraid of, and at moments I was overcome with fear.
Somewhere amid this mental turmoil, I remembered what I'd learned about how you can't be grateful and afraid at the same time. It occurred to me that I could find things to be grateful for in everyone involved and in the situation itself. I held to every evidence of good as an evidence of God, right in the middle of the problem that looked unsolvable. I would struggle with how I could be grateful for everyone. But quietly, steadily, I felt the guidance of gratitude assuring me that what I was doing was what Paul told the Christians to do: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21).
This gratitude kept me afloat. As it turned out, our daughter began to find her way, and by then our gratitude for and approval of all the people involved had been genuinely felt and communicated, even though my daughter decided not to marry the young man. In fact,this family remains joyously and lovingly supportive of our daughter. Gratitude is always a safe way to proceed. A line from a hymn in the "Christian Science Hymnal" points out:
A grateful heart a fortress is,
A staunch and rugged tower,
Where God's omnipotence, revealed,
Girds man with mighty power.
Hymn No. 3
There is nothing more mighty in human affairs than a grateful heart. I've been thinking about that in light of current world situations. I've turned again to gratitude as a sure foil to fears of all kinds. I've felt a growing assurance and peace that no matter how confusing, unsolvable, and fearsome these situations confronting us appear to be, gratitude is a safe guide. It will help to bring out the answers so needed on all sides.