Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Morning exercise

It's still dark outside. But instead of watching the morning unfold from my usual perch behind the counter at work, I'm propped up against a pillow on a window bench at my favorite cafe in Ballard, observing the quietness of the usually bustling street as it wakes up. The rain falls steadily outside, painting drizzly streaks of polka dots down the window. Rap music fills the cozy, hip French cafe, an odd juxtaposition to a dark and drizzly morning. I don't work until later this morning, and tempting as it was to stay curled up in bed, I wanted to seize a rare opportunity to enjoy the morning from the other side of the coffee counter. I figured I could use the reflection time to set the course for this day, something that's gotten lost in my early morning work schedule. It's much harder to be intentional about starting the day out right when very little stands between waking up and starting work.

Hmm, intentionality, it seems I have lost you at some little juncture on the road. And I wonder why, when I hit the ground running each day, it becomes harder and harder to live out of a full reservoir. The "fruit of the Spirit", which I memorized long ago in Sunday school, may not be as evident in my life as I'd like to believe they are. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Just reading this list is an exercise in humility for me. If these qualities are hallmarks of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, then friends, I confess I'm sorely lacking. And it comes back to that weighty little word, intentionality.

I've been thinking a lot lately about gratitude. About how easy it is not to notice God throughout the day, and in that lack of intentionality, that lack of seeing and hearing and touching and tasting and sensing, how hard it is to cultivate a daily perspective of gratitude. I hate to oversimplify life, to reduce things to a formula or a "key" to unlocking something profound. I'm not going to do that. But I've been thinking, if there were a key to living each day fully, what if it began with gratitude? Gratitude, like love, is a continual choice. I make the choice every day to live from a place of gratitude, even some days in spite of the challenges that are present, whether physically or in circumstance or emotion. I can choose to respond out of gratitude or react out of my unrestrained self. I can make the choice to speak kindly and gently, to be quick to listen and slow to anger, every bit as much as I can make the choice to speak quickly and sharply out of irritation.

I'm beginning to appreciate that gratitude and the fruit of the Spirit are exercises, developing spiritual muscles that don't just show up without intentionality and hard work. I may not like that, but I've got to admit, it appears to be true. Like physical fitness and toned muscles, these desired qualities and attitudes do not magically appear on their own. I've got to go after them, every day, relentlessly cultivating them in my life. No, actually, relentlessly coming to God and admitting that I cannot cultivate them on my own. I need the help of the Spirit. And herein lies the difference between self-help and God-help. Living out of gratitude and the fruit of the Spirit is not ultimately something I can achieve by simply having the right strategies, reading the right books and trying hard enough. It takes commitment on my part, but God does a lot of the work if I can be humble enough to admit I need his help. Every day.

The question is, if all I can ever be certain of is that I have been given this moment, what will I choose to live out of - gratitude or forgetfulness?

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