One of the recurring struggles in my life has been my tendency to envy others. I often compare myself to others in some twisted game of internal competition where I inevitably end up in the losers bracket. It’s one of those prime examples of insanity, doing the same thing over again, expecting different results. In my struggle with self-measuring, I find myself caught up in a giant toilet-bowl swirly of discontent, envy and jealousy.
“I’m not as smart as him.”
“She has more talent in her little toe that I do in my entire body!”
“Why can’t I be as good-looking as him?”
I have learned that the best defense against my envy attacks is gratitude. I must practice being grateful in all things lest I fall into my toilet bowl of discontent and envy.
I have challenged myself over the past year to write down five things I’m grateful for each morning. If I miss a day, then I list ten the next. This practice has helped me get free from the chains of envy and jealousy in my life. When I’m grateful, I’m less likely to obsess over what other people have.
Brian McLaren, in his book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, gives an entire chapter on the practice of gratitude. One of the exercises he encourages his readers to do is to write out a prayer, finishing three prompts:
- “Thank you, Lord, for…” (Name gifts as they come to mind.)
- “If I stopped being grateful…” (Tell God what would happen to you if you didn’t give thanks.)
- “Thank you!” (Describe how you feel to be so blessed.)
It was the second prompt, “If I stopped being grateful…” that really caught my attention. As I began to explore my life and what it would become if I stopped being grateful, I was overwhelmed with how tragically different my life would end up. I would end up a wretched, bitter old man, isolated from my family and my church. I would be alone and homeless, all because of my chronic ingratitude.
As I contemplated on this realization, it occurred to me that gratitude is like the earth’s axis in my life. If the earth’s axis moves too far off it’s 23.5-degree angle, all havoc would break loose, literally destroying earth, as we know it. The same thing would happen to my world if I lost my axis of gratitude. My life would be turned upside down.
We can’t survive without an axis of gratitude.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Cicero