Upside Down Gratitude

Upside Down Gratitude, Part One

I remember hanging from the trapeze bar on the playground. I rarely see them anymore, but they were standard on swingsets through my childhood. Maybe they were declared a bit too dangerous, because many people fell and ended up in mom’s arms or a cast. I would grab the bar and quickly flip backward then flip my legs over the bar and let go, so I’d hang upside down. I would just hang there or gently swing. And I’d look around. Everything looked different, but I could still recognize most things around me. I could see who was who. I could figure out who was running in what direction. I had limited movement but could swing or twist a little to see a little more. Eventually I’d start getting distracted by the blood rushing to my head. 

The upside down perspective is odd. A perspective change often is. There are things about it that are discombobulating, yet there are pieces of it that are familiar. I recognized people and the general layout of the playground, but it all looked different. I couldn’t focus on many details, because I was trying to orient my perspective and make sense of the order of everything. When we experience a discombobulating situation in life, we get to choose some of our focus but we can’t take it all in, because we’re distracted by the confusion or the discomfort. 

And it’s not just the upside down perspective, like the trapeze, that creates a challenge. If it was just one apparatus on the playground (or situation in life), we might get better at avoiding it or adjusting to it at some point. 

Many playgrounds have seesaws (or teeter totter, if you prefer). Up and down, up and down. It seems simple and rhythmic and reliable, but there are balancing and weight issues, plus the possibility of someone jumping off and changing perspective and comfort very quickly. Not surprisingly, seesaw is commonly used as a verb to describe the back and forth changes in our life situations and conditions. We all know what that seesaw feels like. We might get used to the consistent, fun-at-times but almost-makes-me-puke effect—on the playground and in life. 

Most newer playgrounds have the interconnected units, which almost assuredly include some sort of tunnel. Those tunnels can become crowded and overwhelming. They might have a bubble window for a quick glance outside, but those bubble views are rarely clear. Literally, you will have tunnel vision as you travel through those spaces on the playground. Perspective is limited, and even if you’re moving in one direction, it’s easy to lose some orientation in relation to what’s outside the tunnel. And if it’s a network of tunnels, you might just misplace people. (As a responsible mom, I will not incriminate myself by admitting I may or may not have a relatable experience.)

We can’t leave out the slides, which provide a quick thrill. That thrill can end in a crash, or sometimes, be anti-climactic because we get stuck on the way down by the wrong shoes or pants or a not-well-prepared slide surface, or some slowpoke decides to slide in front of us. Even worse, someone comes up from the bottom, and we either have to scoot back and out of their way or tolerate them climbing over us.

Then there are spring riders. I had to look up the name, because I just call them animal things. They’re positioned on a large, single metal coil and are designed to rock back and forth. However, depending on how they’re made and how long they’ve been used, they can unpredictably buck us this way and that and quickly slam us to the ground.

One more…because how could we leave out the merry-go-round? It invites us on a variety of experiences, depending on if we’re the one pushing with all our might around the outside, standing on the edge and hoping not to fly off, or claiming the middle, where we can find a bit more stability.

Upside down gratitude is like a playground. The gratitude portion makes us think it’s all fun and games. We get to skip and run and have fun while experiencing so many different opportunities. But as we flip and hang upside down, climb up and down, scurry through tunnels and over obstacles, and get pushed and pulled and jostled by people we know and people we don’t, our perspective shifts. We get a bit queasy or dizzy. We get bumped and bruised or left out. The thrill comes within a context of struggles.

Gratitude comes in the context of real life—messy, disorienting, hurtful, confusing life.

Gratitude is not pulling up your big girl panties and dealing with it. Gratitude is not pretending it’s all fun and games. Gratitude is not ignoring reality. And gratitude isn’t a character trait we either have or don’t have.

Gratitude is a choice, and it is a pursuit. It is not just a condition within a snapshot of time. Gratitude is a constant development, a process, a string of choices and perspective that all require humility and authenticity. Authenticity comes within the context of trust and truth. Our gratitude cannot be sourced within ourselves, because we are unreliable. Our environment is unreliable. We will change and grow. We gravitate toward comfort. Let’s be honest: we’re selfish. We get in our own way. 

But God.

Gratitude is authentic when positioned in a relationship with God.

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