It’s hard to be grateful right now, and that’s OK


In the United States, this is the alleged month of gratitude (not for the Indigenous, of course). We are supposed to have an “attitude of gratitude” and all will be well. At least that’s how I was raised. If you claim it, it shall be.

Most of us Americans are taught we should just pick ourselves up by the bootstraps even if we don’t have boots. But here it is, the month of November, yet I feel the heavy weight of unparalleled political strife, juggling school and financial needs, and now, a sudden suicide in our family. How can I rise above all this to be thankful? Well, the truth is I just can’t right now, and that’s all right.

I have discovered in my chaplaincy training that there are times when we just need to sit in the muck and feel whatever it is that we’re feeling. I couldn’t possibly say to a grieving parent who had just lost their child, “It’s all right. Just be grateful that …” That would be harmful on so many levels. Sometimes, we need to feel the horror, sadness, anger and be fully present in it. As chaplains, it is our role to allow people who are experiencing trauma or grief to feel whatever emotion pops up for them and just “sit with” them while they’re going through it. Often, there is no need for words, just a “presence of ministry” in silence can be very comforting.

We are also taught that by trying to avoid pain now, we are just circumventing what needs to happen and actually slowing down the healing process. By telling people to “buck up and be grateful,” we are throwing them off the rails of their own natural emotional processes. And sometimes, they may never get back on track and move on from their pain.

As with any emotion, we cannot force gratitude, no matter what the date is, and we would do better to recognize that in our relationships. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us could learn to do this with each other? Imagine how different we would feel in our home, workplace, or community if we could “just be” ourselves without interference, objection, or distraction? Our emotions, any of them, can’t harm ourselves or others. It’s the actions that can, and we need to remember that, of course. But imagine if we had the comfortability and respect from others to feel whatever we are feeling in the moment and able to express it (healthily), whatever it is.

We are under so much pressure in our nation to always look and feel our best, be on top of our game, and forever be grateful. Well sometimes, I just feel sad or mad or whatever, and I don’t feel like putting on my boots at all. Sometimes, I just want to cry, yell, or stare out into space and know I have the room to do that physically and emotionally.

So perhaps in this declared month of gratitude, we can allow ourselves and others not to feel thankfulness and to feel whatever emotions bubble up. Ironically, from that, genuine gratitude can come.

Formerly a Colorado state senator, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, speaker, filmmaker, and facilitator. She may be reached at,,, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.


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