This Week on Soul Talks
How can we be thankful if we’re in a season where we don’t feel thankful? We may even be experiencing trials or grief and feeling downright bad!
Being thankful and experiencing feelings of grief, anger, or dissatisfaction are not opposed to each other. We don’t have to deny our pain or suffering in order to express gratitude to God. In fact, true thankfulness comes from being emotionally honest about both the good and bad things we’re experiencing.
In this Soul Talk, BiIll and Kristi walk us through how our hearts and souls can have a truly thankful posture no matter what we are experiencing.
You can read the transcript below.
Gratitude and Emotional Honesty Transcript
Bill & Kristi Gaultiere
One of the things we want for you this Christmas is greater intimacy with Jesus.
This is something that really helps us and that we look forward to each Christmas season.
Each Advent we do our Surprising Joy Advent meditations.
Bill and I look forward every year to picking a character from the Christmas gospels to really meditate on, pray and to prompt our interactions with the Lord about what we are feeling and to relate with.
We even enjoy sharing with each other the insights and how the Lord is meeting us.
They’re speaking to us as we journey with this character and Jesus in the Advent season, reflecting upon God’s grace and action in our lives.
He’s with us now. And we don’t want to miss that in this Advent.
So we recommend those Surprising Joy Advent cards.
And then also we want to just let you know, whenever you buy our Soul Shepherding resources, any profit goes to support the costs of this ministry.
We don’t do a lot of fundraising. We’re asking the Lord to put on your heart and his people’s hearts to support Soul Shepherding.
And you can give a gift there.
We are so thankful that you are part of the Soul Shepherding community.
We are so blessed that we get to interact with you.
Even just seeing how many of you are tuning in to this podcast encourages us to keep going.
Sometimes it’s hard to take courage and show up to this microphone.
But Bill, I am thankful today that we do get to do this, and I’m thankful we get to have an intentional conversation about giving thanks.
And one of the things that sometimes can be a struggle around Thanksgiving is that some of us are not emotionally at a place where Thanksgiving is naturally flowing out of us.
Is Thanksgiving Naturally Flowing Out of You?
There’s times in my life where I am. I’m just filled with gratitude and praise and it’s flowing out of me and it’s easy.
Then there are other times when the circumstances are difficult and I’m grieving, or I’m experiencing a lot of desolation and difficulty.
It feels like I can be tempted to think, Oh, I’ve gotta be that kid and say, ‘Thank you to God.’
I almost had to say, “Thank you,” to someone who gave me a gift that I didn’t want and didn’t like.
It just has to be this sacrifice, this discipline, this kind of mannered thing to do, but I’m not really feeling it.
It feels disintegrated.
Thanksgiving and emotional honesty; how do they fit together?
Because it seems like there’s a tension between the two.
I know some of our listeners are in a place where they are so excited to give thanks!
Their hearts are ready and right for that!
But some aren’t.
This is really a hard season to give thanks.
They’re suffering, they’re experiencing a lot of loss, a lot of difficulty.
The Bible says “Rejoice! always; again, I say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 )
And it says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, and rejoice in our trials. Consider it pure joy when you go through many different kinds of trials.”
Sometimes that just sounds like we’re denying emotion.
And it just sounds like, “Well, think positive and true things and your feelings will follow. And, if you have any contrary feelings, just repress them, give thanks, and put on a happy face.”
Feeling Shame When You Aren’t Feeling Thankful
Sometimes I’ll even feel shame for feeling thankful, or to be struggling with contrary emotions.
When this happens, I won’t want to talk about it or hide it.
I’ll look at people that seem to be able to feel happy all the time, and I’ll idolize them.
I’ll condemn myself, “Well, they’re able to be so happy and positive all the time, even in their difficult circumstances!”
Repressing Your Real Emotions Hurts
Sometimes the happiness we achieve is at the cost of negating our emotions and desires and needs.
We may seem happy for a while, and it might seem like it’s working, but we would pay a price for that repression of emotion.
For example, via bad health, the internalization of stress, in the distancing in our relationships, and in our relationship with God.
When we’re not bringing our true self, or we’re not bringing our inner experiences and needs unto the Lord, this is a distancing factor.
There’s this inner me, this dimension of my personality in my life that’s not known, not understood, not cared for, not loved.
But on the outside I’m acting cheerful and thankful.
After all, it’s a good thing to be grateful!
There are things to be grateful for.
And so there’s a tension here between these two realities.
Definitely. I think that it’s confusing and it’s hard to do well, and it helps to talk about it.
I find that if I’m denying my emotions and just trying to do the “happy” thing, or the “well-mannered” thing or the correct behavior, it does get in the way of my intimacy for two reasons:
- One is because I’m not being emotionally honest with you or with God.
- I usually go into a place where I’m shaming myself for feeling bad at all. I start judging my emotions.
This is depressing. You’re harming yourself with self-judgment and self-condemnation.
That is what’s going on underneath the surface, while you’re trying to be outwardly thankful and happy.
This came up for me yesterday in our relationship because I was having some emotions about some interactions we had the day before.
There was a part of me that just wanted to ignore the emotions, repress them, not communicate them, and not deal with them.
But as I did that, I noticed I was sinking into shame.
I kept telling myself, “This is my fault, my fault, my fault. It was all my fault. I’m too sensitive. I’m too emotional. Why am I feeling this?”
I didn’t want to have to deal with it. But instead, I’ve learned that I need to be honest with you because otherwise I’m going to withdraw from you.
I’m going to sink into this shame and it’s not going to be good for our relationship.
I love you. I want to have a good, honest, connected relationship with you.
So I’ve learned that I need to be honest with you.
So I asked you if you could listen to me and you did, and you gave me empathy and grace.
It Takes Effort to Be Honest with Ourselves
It was a Sunday, Sabbath day. I had done my workout with weights and core exercises, and I was about to go for a run. So you asserted yourself to talk with me, and that really took courage. I appreciated that. It was important because if we don’t have those kinds of conversations, then it makes for distance.
I either go into depression, or later that anger would leak out at you in a way that would be hurtful. And you wouldn’t know where it’s coming from.
Right! There would have been a hidden resentment. So a lot of times when we’re experiencing distance, not just in our marriage, but in our friendships or other family relationships, it’s because of these repressed emotions, or internalizing stress.
Or, having a secret resentment that maybe we’re not even totally aware of, and then going into shame. And so that’s not the way of Jesus. That’s not the way that the scriptures lay it out for us. That’s not the way of the Psalms model.
This is not what Paul is saying when he says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” He’s not saying, “Repress your emotions about the hard circumstances and give thanks.”
It Takes Effort to Be Honest With God About How You Feel
Well, in Philippians he says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” And it seems like, well, don’t be anxious, just repress your emotions.
But then he says “In everything,” and the implication is in everything that you’re stressed about and everything that you’re worrying about, present your request to God.
Ask God for what you need, tell God what you want, express what your emotions are.
That is the point he’s making here.
And do this with gratefulness, meaning that at the same time that we’re having some losses or some distress, there’s also some blessings flowing our way that maybe we’re not seeing.
I think that’s true.
I think even as we go back to the illustration of yesterday in our conversation, there were some new blessings and some new gratitude that surfaced for me in our relationship.
I felt really grateful for the way you responded to me.
I felt really grateful that you heard me.
You paused your jog to be present with me!
You were empathetic and really understood how I felt.
You owned your part of it and apologized for it, and it was so loving.
You used mercy and grace towards me, so I was really thankful for that.
And this increased my thankfulness for you and this carried on through the day.. As I was with you and you reached out to hold my hand, I was able to be more thankful even for that than I normally would.
Even though I’m thankful for when you show me affection, I was even more thankful for it because of how you’d responded to me.
I think this is true with God; when we’re emotionally honest with him and we connect with him, we can receive his grace, his love and his mercy.
It also makes us more thankful for him.
You Can Be Honest With How You Feel, and Still Be Grateful
So what you’re modeling is a way of going through the distress, the frustration, and finding gratitude through that process rather than re-using gratitude to just be positive.
To just focus on the positive and then negate the negative and the emotion, which is, I think, the way people typically hear that message about being grateful.
They turn their eyes away from what hurts or what’s frustrating and what’s wrong.
They instead turn their eyes towards God or towards God’s blessings.
It’s always good to turn our eyes to the Lord, but we also need to be able to turn our eyes to the Lord with maybe tears in our eyes or a frown on our face because we’re frustrated or in distress and anxiety.
We’re needing to express ourselves to God and find our gratitude through that emotional honesty.
How To Be Thankful When We Aren’t Thankful
You know, right now, Bill, I’m suffering with the loss of taste and smell.
I haven’t been able to taste or smell for the last three months since having COVID.
And that’s been really sad for me. That’s been hard for me.
That’s been a suffering for me more than I would’ve thought.
I’m surprised by how much I feel the loss and how much it affects my feelings of safety.
I find myself not able to smell things that are harmful to me or to others or to us. It puts me in a position of increased vulnerability.
It’s a loss because it makes me insecure.
I don’t know if I smell bad, if our house smells bad, I feel insecure about ways that I try to love people and not knowing if I’m doing it and not being able to have that feedback of how things smell.
It’s OK to Rely on Others
And I’ve had to rely upon you to let me know if the cat litter smells. I don’t know if our garbage smells!
Just appreciating the pleasures that God had given me, through tastes of different foods and all the different ways that I received his love as constellations, comfort.
Even eating has been hard! It’s something that I’ve had to make myself do because I don’t enjoy it.
As I’m going through the healing process, now I’m in a stage where I’m having really bad smells instead of having appropriate smells.
Everything feels putrid and really, really horrible to me.
So it’s especially hard to eat right now, but in this there’s been difficulty for me with being thankful.
I’ve tried to just be thankful that I have my other senses.
I am thankful for that, and I’m thankful that while I can still eat, even though it’s hard for me and I don’t like it, I still am able to eat and get the nutrition I need.
But I’ve been looking for ways where I could find something positive in this experience to give thanks for.
I am finding little ones, but it doesn’t deny the loss and the grief.
Being Honest with Your Emotions is Key
You’re showing us, Kristi, through this specific example the effects of COVID via losing your smell and your taste. You’re showing us that you’re being emotionally honest about the losses and you’re grieving.
You’re not able to protect yourself or even love others as well as you want. When you notice what smells bad, you’re feeling the loss of pleasure associated with eating. That’s a very significant deprivation for you! It’s hard for you to feel satisfied when you eat.
Grieving is Natural – It’s a Part of the Process
I still have cravings and crave good, yummy things.
But then when I eat them, they taste so horrible! I don’t feel satisfied because the craving is still there.
I still want something yummy.
I still want something that tastes good.
I really miss enjoyment of some of those favorite foods that now just taste and smell bad.
One Part of Grief is Missing What You Once Had
Yes. It’s so disappointing.
It’s hard to even look forward to eating, but then you’re hungry and you start to look forward to it, but then it ends up tasting bad.
You feel like you’re worse off than before you started eating.
I had some special things we enjoyed together.
We really enjoyed going and getting a matcha tea latte together or had a favorite cookie place or gelato shop.
We’re not able to enjoy these things anymore.
I even miss the fun, the bonding. There’s few I enjoyed, but now they’re lost too.
That’s been another grief for me. And you’ll hear me explain those griefs.
Especially during the holiday season, with so many gatherings with family and friends that are centered around food, it’s difficult.
I’m going to cook a Thanksgiving feast and it’s going to smell putrid to me.
Those are losses for me.
Some of my favorite holiday foods are coming around, like eggnog, that I only enjoy once a year and I won’t get to enjoy that this year.
So, I can complain a little bit about those losses to you, and I feel guilt and shame about this and want to hide this.
But, I’ve learned from the Psalmist and healthy lamenting and the discipline, I will admit, that this really pairs with Thanksgiving.
If I do the work of healthy lament, which we call good complaining, then it does release a new Thanksgiving for me to experience.
It helps me be able to give thanks for all the good things that God does and God gives me, rather than just putting my energy into just trying to deny and feel loss.
It’s coming from your life.
It’s not requiring you to not look at some things or pretend you don’t feel disappointed or frustrated, but to actually admit to what’s difficult.
Invite God into that.
You have put this together and teach this really well in our Spiritual and Psychological Development Institute Week on the differences between good and bad complaining.
That has been so helpful to me!
Especially the chart that you put in our institute book on the difference between good complaining and bad complaining.
I tend to judge myself when I complain.
That all complaining is bad and I shouldn’t complain at all.
I feel ashamed that I complain.
Seeing this chart that you put together with “good complaining” was helpful to me.
There’s actually a “good complaint.” This is the healthy grief and grief work.
This is a good corrective for me to know, when am I stepping into the bad complaining versus when am I doing a productive, important lamenting.
This is actually building intimacy in my relationship with God and working through the grief to get me to a place of genuine thanksgiving.
We spent a whole session on this in the Soul Shepherding Institute and for you who are listening, we would love to have you join us for this.
It’s fun to just imagine you with us in a circle that would probably be about 30 or 35 of us together on retreat and going through various shepherding topics where we experience and pray the Psalms.
We can have soul talks with each other as well as different scripture meditation experiences.
And of course, we will have a Q&A discussion and five hours of TLC time every day.
TLC is To Love Christ time in solitude, and taking time for silence for soul care in spiritual direction groups.
Every day of the institute is like this.
We’ve got a couple new cohorts starting this year, too.
So you can go to soulshepherding.org/institute and you can see the upcoming dates that we have.
We’d love to have you consider praying with us.
There’s always a new cohort, a new retreat for the institute because we keep doing them as long as people keep coming.
It’s the most fruitful thing we do. We love seeing the transformation in people’s lives.
Good Complaining vs. Bad Complaining
And the most fun, too!
Good and bad complaining: It doesn’t sound like fun, but when you differentiate it is releasing.
It’s bonding with the Lord and in our relationship.
Bad complaining is like grumbling, and good complaining is like the lament Psalms.
The Israelites complained in the wilderness.
We read in the Old Testament, in Exodus and Numbers, that they were grumbling.
They were being incessantly negative and filled with self-pity, resentment, and they were thinking bad things about God.
But, in contrast, the Psalms offer an emotionally honest prayer in the complaint.
Psalms are actually called the “Complaint Psalms,” but they’re songs of faith and they’re songs and prayers that bring in the goodness of God, even in the midst of our complaining.
There’s an emotionally honest faith there.
In grumbling, a lot of times we’re blaming other people or our own self.
Take Ownership of Your Emotions
In lament, we’re taking responsibility for ourselves and how we’re reacting to the situation. In grumbling, I call this “externalizing.”
We’re expecting the situation to be different.
We’re seeing that the problem is outside of us.
We’re not seeing that our experience and our participation or our reaction is important.
In the lament Psalms, we’re accepting reality and we’re taking ownership of our emotions and our needs.
We’re talking about this with God, with somebody that’s safe.
In grumbling, we’re generalizing, “Oh, this always happens,” or “It will never change.”
This is an all-or-nothing type of thinking or hopelessness.
In the lament Psalms, there are very concrete, specific examples.
In counseling and spiritual direction, we ask people, “What’s an example of how you’re feeling?”
In this podcast, Kristi, you do this beautifully by sharing about your experience that you had, both with the tension between us yesterday, or the example with losing your taste and your smell.
To Grumble is to Spoil
If we don’t have a specific example, the conversations are theoretical. Healthy lament or “good complaining” is concrete.
There are specific examples.
In grumbling, we’re repressing emotions like sadness, anger, and fear.
We’re not putting words to those feelings and we’re not coming from a place of needing something.
In lament, we’re being very honest and we’re vulnerable. We’re admitting to what we need.
A lot of times in grumbling we’re spoiling good things that God’s providing.
And that’s the power of thankfulness.
There’s always something good and beautiful in life with Jesus in the Father’s world.
There is always kindness flowing, new adventures that are possible and there are ways that God is bringing in something lovely for us.
In grumbling, we’re spoiling, but in healthy lament, we’re receiving and appreciating whatever is good.
A lot of times the good things are unseen.
We need to look for them.
I can find those after I’ve processed through some of my complaining, that I need to get the complaint.
If I put my hand right in front of my face, as an example, all I can see is my hand!
It’s the thing I’m complaining about and it’s coloring everything else I’m perceiving.
But, when I start to talk about this and how it feels, then I start to get free.
And all of a sudden I can see the things I’ve been missing.
A lot of times we’re forcing ourselves to be thankful and grateful and to see things that are beautiful and lovely.
But when we’re forcing ourselves to be thankful and grateful, we’re negating our actual needs and are in distress.
When I meet with a client and they’re emotionally honest with me, and they let themselves complain and share their burden, they leave free. They leave restored in faith. They restore their intimacy with God and their confidence in God.
They’ve usually found some things to be grateful for. Usually they leave with some words of thanksgiving on their mouth.
Being Empathetic is Key
This is why we put empathy at the very center of spiritual direction.
With our Senior Spiritual Directors on our staff, we emphasize empathetic listening and help people find words for what they’re feeling and experiencing, especially in their relationship with God.
This is so helpful for opening up their ability to perceive and be aware of God’s presence in their life.
Empathy is what facilitates healthy complaining rather than unhealthy complaining.
This is what facilitates a gratitude that comes from deep within our souls, deep within our hearts.
I’m finding as I am healthily complaining to God over this loss with my taste and smell, then I’m able to kind of get back to a place of surrender and just say, “Okay Lord, what do you have for me in this?
What are you teaching me? Help me to see the good that you’re willing for me in this.”
But I can’t start there because I have all these other emotions that get in the way.
Grumbling Vs. Lamenting
That’s really helpful.
A few more contrasts between grumbling and lamenting: In grumbling, we’re trying to control things, people, circumstances, emotions, and we are trying to make something happen.
In lament, we’re abandoning outcomes to God or submitting ourselves to the Lord and to his word.
There’s accepting the reality of the loss.
I have to get to acceptance.
“Okay. I’m still struggling with this. I’m still feeling this every day, still longing for restoration for healing, but Lord, is there something good that you’re wanting to show me in this?”
The Reality of My Experience
There’s two realities.
There is the reality of my experience, and how I’m feeling about it, which in this case is a complaint.
But there’s also the reality of God’s presence, God’s kingdom, God’s word, what God is saying and doing.
There must be something good that God is intending for me to let me continue to suffer this.
We’re bringing together those two realities because we’re bi-habitational creatures, we’re made for two worlds, the visible and the invisible.
As I engage with God, honestly, about how it feels, I can then surrender to it and learn to say, “Okay, how can I experience your pleasure in this season?”
Especially, where one of the main pleasures that I previously enjoyed, that I’m genuinely thankful to you for, has been taken from me.
In grumbling, we tend to do whatever will make us feel better.
Also, it’s often a compulsive behavior, or some mechanism of escape.
But, in lament Psalms, we’re actually learning to worship God, even in the midst of a loss, frustration, grief and otherwise difficult situation.
In grumbling, we end up stuck in the situation and in a bodily state of repressed emotional toxins that we’re just cycling in.
But in the lament Psalms, we’re learning to live in the spiritual reality of God’s kingdom and actually bringing our bodies into that.
Yeah. I’m still learning that I’ve been practicing that now for a long time.
It’s still a learning process.
I have learned that I can still be happy in Jesus without taste and smell.
That’s a good thing, but I’m still mourning and grieving the loss of it.
Integrating Gratefulness and Emotional Honesty
Thank you, Kristi, for your authenticity. And for you who are listening, I hope that gives you some inspiration, ideas and energies around and in your life.
If you’re dealing with different frustrations or losses, health challenges, conflicts in a relationship or disappointments in your life, remember to be emotionally honest with God in prayer.
Praying the lament Psalms, finding a safe person who will listen to you and give you empathy, a safe person who will pray for you that this is a life of gratitude and thankfulness.
This is a part of rejoicing in all circumstances and a reminder to not be anxious about anything. It’s a part of finding God in the midst of daily life.
This is central to a robust celebration of Thanksgiving as we begin this holiday season.
We’re so thankful for Jesus for so many reasons, our Lord and our Savior has forgiven our sins and shown us his Father’s love.
Where would we be without the incarnation of Jesus?
We would be so lost.
Part of what Jesus shows us is the fullness of a human being.
He showed us how God created us to be what we were like in the garden and Adam and Eve, and what we’ll be like in heaven.
He’s also shown us becoming students of Jesus as his apprentices.
And a part of this is Jesus shows us how to be emotionally honest like the Psalmist.
We’re integrating gratefulness and emotional truthfulness.