So if we remove labels from our experiences, if we stop evaluating them as “good” or “bad,” then what? Doing so requires a whole different mindset that includes awareness that:

  • I am not in control,
  • I have a very limited view of what is really going on, and
  • I can’t know how things will turn out for me and others affected.

Those can be daunting realities, or they can be liberating ones.

They are daunting if, like me, you like to feel in control, you like to imagine you know what’s coming, and you like to have all the questions answered before you make a decision. Giving those up is like deciding to stop breathing. That kind of thinking, planning, worrying, juggling is exhausting, but it is what many of us do all the time without even thinking. We’ve done it so long, it feels natural and necessary.

Many religious writers have suggested that this way of thinking is the primary addiction for most of us.

Relinquishing our need to feel in control is easier once we realize some important things. For one thing, life is never one thing, but many. Every situation we encounter is never all of one thing or the other, not all light or all darkness, all pain or pleasure, treasure or trash. Life, and each moment of it, is a baffling mixture of light and darkness, pain and pleasure, factors that seem to be going for us and going against us. And things keeps changing from one moment to the next.

We like to think we are responding to one, single thing when, in fact, we are always responding to situations that are chock full of unknowns and ambiguity. We simply do not and cannot fully know what’s right in front of us.

Therefore, instead of filtering each situation through our expectations of what we want or what fits, and then deciding whether to be grateful, we can start with gratitude as the filter. We can see everything through the eyes of gratitude, and then say, “This is life. It is a gift. I don’t understand it, and I’m not wise enough to know how this will turn out. Since life has presented me with this moment, I choose to be in it with gratitude.”

Gratitude is confidence in life, that it will evolve from this moment to the next, and confidence in ourselves to be present in this moment, even when the moment is painful. This does not mean we have to like or be happy about everything that happens. It simply means we show up for the moment.

Richard Rohr suggests the simple statement, “Just this.” I attend to just this this moment, this experience.

I think what Paul is saying is that the midst of the ambiguity of circumstances, of all the responses we could make, being grateful is the most powerful. Begin with gratitude and be open to what comes next.