Gratitude and Stepping into Freedom from Pain
By Richard Kinney
Have you ever wondered why small children have so much joy and energy? It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, small children all have this. Why did Jesus say “Least you become like a little child, you will in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven?” Is it possible that as we grow up that we have mishandled and misinterpreted some of the experiences that have come our way, until we have lost the joy and energy we came in with? What if God has designed us to be powerful–full of life and love? I believe he has and that we have lost our way in the darkness of this world. Recently God has shown me some tools to regain our natural state. These tools dovetail very nicely with the present-day, wide spread movement of the Holy Spirit highlighting gratitude as a way of life and worship. In this class I will try to unpack what was shown to me as an important addition to the way that we counsel and live.
I would like to talk to you about dilation and constriction, moving forward and insisting that all of life nourish us as opposed to withdrawing and hiding. The devil wants us to be constricted and in a state of reaction. When we are in a state of reaction we are caught and unable to act freely. God wants us to stay open, able to be free and to act.
We are surrounded by the love of God and the power of God on all sides. He is everywhere equally present. Unlimited power and love and surround us like an ocean. If we open to it, it will flood in. If you have ever been to the dam at Niagara Falls and seen them open the flood gates, you’d be very happy not to be in front of the water that comes out. The water does not need to be coaxed or begged. It just comes through in a volume largely determined by how wide the gates are open. God’s power and love are like that. When we open up to it, it comes in abundantly. This is not all there is to intimacy with God, but it is a really big piece of it.
Most people believe that if they don’t feel the love of God, or have the power of God working through them, that there is a “supply side” problem. God is holding out on us. He is stingy and mean–or there is not enough–or worse yet, he doesn’t like us. All these are lies that cause us to back up and be constricted.
To be constricted is to have the soul unhealthily compressed upon itself that does not allow the love and power of God to flow freely. If a woman is going to give birth to bring life into the world she much first dilate. In order for us to allow the power of God and the love of God to move through us freely, we must heal these constricted areas in our soul and come into a healthy and normal state of dilation where the power and love of God will move through us freely. Here are some things in life that we encounter that cause our souls to constrict: pain, unfair treatment, fear, anger, hatred, guilt, blame, bad self-image, unresolved loss. Here are some things that cause our souls to dilate: love, joy, forgiveness, good self-image, peace, companionship, plenty. Think of someone you love for a few moments and see how you feel. You’ll feel your heart open, your body relax, and a sense of warmth and well-being move through you.
As a Christian, our lives are moving in a straight line from the moment of salvation towards heaven. As pilgrims here on earth, we live a nomadic life in this world. We need to stay open to the power and love that will allow us to represent Christ on our journey. To illustrate this, there is a fuse used to detonate explosives called “det cord”. It is used by special forces and SWAT teams. It burns very rapidly and is really a series of small explosions. It’s sticky like putty. You can put it on a closed and locked steel door and set it off and it will cut right through the steel and will create any shaped opening you want. Try for a moment to see your life as a series of positive and negative explosions moving very rapidly in a straight line, making up the whole of your life. This class is an instruction on one way of opening and maintaining this cord of life in a dilated and healed state that will allow God to easily move through us. We will learn to digest the best of our experiences with gratitude and thanksgiving and to move forcefully into the areas of pain and trauma–learning to re-open the “cave-ins” of our life; and healing and getting nourishment from them. We’ll start with how to handle the heart breaking moments of loss and sorrow that come into our lives.
If a really big moment of loss or even of good comes into our lives, the soul must process it or digest it so we can go on in a healthy way in our lives. We see this by people obsessing over an event or person who hurt them or even a lost love they can’t let go of. These unprocessed and undigested experiences are stored in the soul much like the body stores food it can’t process by setting it aside in fatty tissues. Post traumatic stress syndrome is an extreme example of this.
Our natural inclination towards pain is to hide from it, pretend it does not hurt, or feel that nothing can be done about it and just try to “suck it up” and go on. This leaves us blocked and in reaction whether we know it or not. The way I suggest dealing with these painful and traumatic occurrences is illustrated by the martial arts practice which is ” Wu Wei “. This is using our enemies strength against him. I call this same process in an emotional and counseling sense “coming in the opposite spirit.”
Let’s have a marshal art lesson to demonstrate the principle of Wu Wei (pronounced wee way). A 130 pound woman has been grabbed by a 200 pound man by her wrists. She pulls away from him with all her strength. He pulls back with his greater strength. She will not be able to break free from his grasp in this manner. What should she do? She needs to use his strength against him. First she pulls back as hard as she can, forcing him to pull on her wrists harder. Then she steps in towards him and pushes off her back foot, letting him pull her towards him violently. Her hands are outstretched where she strikes him in the upper chest or throat knocking him back and down as she twists her wrists free from his grip by pulling out where they are grasped by his thumb and forefinger. Then she may run away or attack as she sees fit. It is by moving towards the larger opponent that she gains freedom and mastery of that opponent. In the same way, as we go back over our life into an old wound or painful circumstance that is constricting our soul, it is by stepping directly into it and not away from it and insisting that we get nourishment from it that we gain our freedom and return to a natural state of dilation and openness to God.
What we need to do is to ask Jesus to hold our hand and step with us directly into the pain and say, “Jesus, this really hurts. Stay here with me and make it bearable until we pass through the pain and gain nourishment from it.” What was a “stumbling block” and constrictor of our soul becomes a stepping stone of pain and trauma successfully faced and mastered. As these wounded areas in your soul are systematically opened up and restored to health, the natural flow of God’s power and love will start to move through you powerfully. This flow will bring about even further healing and return you to your natural states of joy, energy and power.
Our deepest held beliefs are our prayers. If we believe in a positive world with a God who cherishes and loves us just the way we are, we will tend to draw more blessing and positive experience by the action of that belief as a positive prayer. If we believe we are oppressed and unloved and unappreciated, those beliefs will draw those experiences to us. Our deepest held beliefs naturally reinforce themselves. And we will have objective proof that the lies that we believe are true. This is a cause of the failure of many of our prayers of petition to be answered.
For example, a man at a job wants a promotion and prays for one. However, his deepest held belief is that he is not the kind of person who is positively noticed and not really “good material” for promotion and blessing. So his prayer goes unanswered. We have seen many times in our counseling practice, that when someone changes their deepest held negative core belief –such as, no one notices me or really enjoys my company–all of a sudden they begin to have make friends and get promotions at work.
Gratitude for the joyful and good things that come into our lives help us to digest them and get the good out of them. Wrongly held, even good things can constrict us, as we hold them in an undigested state, as a high point that we may never achieve again. Here are some examples: A first love that we never married; being a high school football star; having a high paying job that we loved and lost; having been very strong and athletic and losing our health. If we hold these without gratitude, they can constrict our soul. Let me give you an example of a counselee of mine’s life experience that started me on the seeking that led to this class. A seven year marriage that began when she was twenty had some wonderful high points of love and romance during their first five years. In the final two years the same good experiences were happening, but the husband became very jealous and his insecurity and jealousy ruined a truly beautiful marriage with a completely devoted wife. The wife, broken hearted, interpreted the whole seven years of the marriage as loss–a high point in her life that she would never reach again. At age fifty, her deepest held beliefs had come true with two more very bad marriages behind her.
What we did to help her was to go back with deep gratitude and thankfulness for the first five years of the marriage and interpreted that time as one of great blessing–restoring that area of her soul to its natural state of dilation. What we did with the final two years of the marriage was to ask Jesus to enter into it with us into the deep pain and loss until she came out the other side, having been nourished by the experience. She came away a stronger person strengthened by successfully facing her pain and having her soul restored in that process Her deepest held belief changed to being optimistic and being that she could, with Jesus help, face the good and bad that comes to all of us thereby setting herself up for success in future life.
Here is another example. A counselee who had a very abusive mother and truly painful childhood, had the blessing of her mother marrying a truly lovely man who became like a step-father from heaven to her loving and adoring the child. After eight years of a father figure that most people would give anything for, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. She was devastated. She counted all eight years as loss, setting herself up for more loss and hurt in the future. Many of us do this. What we need to do is to develop a habit of gratitude and go back to the areas of our life that blessed us. And take them in and digest them through thanksgiving and gratitude. We did this with this counselee and she got the good and the nourishment of her wonderful step-father. By stepping into her pain with Jesus at her side, she found release and nourishment in that part of her soul. She also released the terrible loss of his sudden death., she also released. She became much more lively and open to God–better able to live a life of joy and success.
Since all things are contained in God in whom we live and move and have our being, whenever we are grateful for any part of creation, we give praise and worship to the creator. So, as we live, we digest and get good from life by the act of gratitude which connects us to God and becomes an act of worship. We need to go over our lives and see if we are holding some of things that happened to us in an undigested or constricted state and revisit them with the Lord so that we can get good from our positive as well as our negative circumstances.
As an example, as a child I was abandoned by both parents and was beaten by my grandpa. Things were not good for me. But during that time, my grandma would read to me from the classics–Huckleberry Finn, King Arthur, Robin Hood. These are very large books with very big words. It created in me a life-long love of language and literature which have served me very well in my adult life. She was also a fabulous cook. Every day there was wonderful food from her kitchen. I love food and cooking and spent twenty years very happily as a caterer. Cooking is one way that I have learned to express love towards friends and family. Even in the dark times of my life, there have been some really good things. By going back and being grateful for these things we restore dilation and the natural movement of God’s power through our soul. We should not, however, use this to gloss over the pain and sorrow of these times but to step into them with Jesus, as I have described to you earlier. This is a very good way to live.
I am a Christian counselor and I have observed that most Christian counseling has been guilty of being overly problem and trauma centered. Very little has been done in the extremely important area of gratitude and making sure that the counselee gets the good from their past as well as resolves the pain of trauma. Both pieces of the puzzle are necessary for a healthy life of ongoing gratitude and stepping in boldly to pain and problems–past and yet to be faced. In both cases, using the approach of stepping in and gratitude, will bring a balanced healing and a healthy life style for ourselves and for anyone counseled in this way. We will, through these approaches, reinterpret our lives; thereby setting ourselves up for success and for a greater number of good experiences to enter into our lives.
A Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
This is the best book I have read in years and brings forward many profound insights into a life of gratitude and worship of God through gratitude. It is one of the most poetic, practical books I have ever read. The author does not dodge or avoid the very hard questions of how to live a life of gratitude when there is so very much real pain in the world. I would like to add a couple of insights that may be helpful to you as you read this book.
The practice of gratitude can lead a person to a life of recognizing daily good much more often and to develop a habit of grateful recognition and worship of God who gives all things. This practice can lead us to a mindfulness and connectedness to God that will inhabit and bless each day of our lives As we practice gratitude we find ourselves worshipping God and entering the person of God very much in the same way that we enter a very large airport. We enter through the “G” gate of gratitude. We can then go to any airline or open destination in that airport. We can, in like manner, go anywhere in the person of God that we want to once we have entered his person through gratitude and worship. We can go to the place of his healing power, his joy, his presence, his angels and his miracles as well as his father heart of love. We gain access to every part of him as we enter into the practice of gratitude, and through gratitude, worship. We will start to live lives characterized by joy and power as he designed us to live. We will become much more relaxed and confident as we learn to rest in him and not in our own tiny selves. We will begin to experience more fully what it means, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 118:1.
Practicing His Presence
I also recommend the book Practicing His Presence. This book includes the Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence as well as the writing of Frank Laubach, a modern day pioneer in twenty four hour mindfulness of God in worship. It is available through Seed Sowers. This is another must for your library.