Why Stay Stuck with Seagulls when you can Soar with Eagles?: Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude! Part 1 of 2

 

Gratitude

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where I live in Lincoln, California has in the past week experienced some very strange weather. For instance, this past week temperatures soared to well over a 110 degrees and then two days later we drop to 81 degrees with rain. With the change in weather patterns bring transition in the types of birds that hang around my home. In the cooler weather you can observe seagulls which are different because we are two – three hours from the coast. On warmer days it is the pigeons that dominate the sky bringing all the mess that they seem to drop everywhere (simply attempting to be sensitive in my description). Seven years ago we were blessed to have two eagles that were being rehabbed back to health in our area soar above the field behind our home and they are simply majestic. I have heard the phrase for years, “One’s attitude will determine their altitude.” I believe this and I also believe that an “attitude” whether it is positive or negative is contagious. The choices that we make in the type of people that we decide to have relationship with goes a long way in determining how well we are going to maintain our own grateful attitude. One wise man in antiquity once stated it this way, “A man is known by the company that they keep.” A thief to our gratefulness is personal resentment. Resentment can not only lead to toxic emotions and behaviors it keeps people from breaking through. You ever had a CD that had a scratch and it simply got stuck on that scratch which kept from listening to the rest of a song or a movie? This is what resentment does to people it keeps you stuck! It keeps you from soaring to an altitude that you can once again see beyond the clutter and regain your vision.

Henri Nouwen a great Christian theologian in the area of spiritual formation when speaking about gratitude stated, “That gratitude is at the heart of celebration and ministry.”  Henri Nouwen went on to write, “When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope. The great paradox of ministry is that when we minister in our weakness, we receive from those to whom we go. The more in touch we are with our own need for healing and salvation, the more open we are to receiving in gratitude what others have to offer us.”[1] Therefore, using Henri Nouwen’s thinking gratefulness can only be attained when one understands the true nature of one’s own brokenness and the reality that we minister out of our weakness. This is in opposition to most of the perspective of our current Western, American mindset in which weakness is considered more of a hindrance instead of a source of strengthening one’s personal identity. This is what Nouwen would call “freedom.” For Nouwen, freedom was more than an event it was the liberation of a person to begin to breakthrough their own self-absorption that handicaps our capacity to see with clarity the beauty that is around us not in nature alone but in people. Not seeing this beauty keeps one from sharing their gifts with others. Thus, Nouwen declares, “It is hard for me to accept that the best I can do is probably not give but receive. By my receiving in a true and open way, those who give to me can become aware of their own gifts. After all, we come to recognize our own gifts in the eyes of those who receive them gratefully. Gratitude thus becomes the central virtue of a Christian. The Greek word charis means ‘gift’ or ‘grace.’ And what else is the Eucharistic life but a life of gratitude?[2]

Moving from the Altitude of Seagulls (Resentment) to the Altitude of Eagles (Gratitude)

I would in no way consider myself an expert concerning the habits of birds but I have witnessed two things that seagulls do well. First, they leave their excrement everywhere and they are no respecter of special occasions because I had one hit me with their excrement at an outdoor wedding. Second, they are thieves in that they will steal food right out of a person’s hand which one did when I was at a San Francisco Forty-Niners football game with my father when I was a young boy and this seagull swooped down and literally took the hot dog that I was eating right out of my hand. People who become self-absorbed with their own sense of insecurity or being a victim will tend to get stuck in resentment which has them leaving the excrement of their resentment everywhere and their tendency is to create relationships that that help them cope with their own sense of abandonment and feeling that they were left out of the ceremony that took place when God was passing out self-worth. Resentment is a thief that steals life and emotional energy from people. It robs people of their God-given creative genius and makes stuck in the excrement of some pass event making them rehearse it over and over again that they are on their journey looking through a rear view mirror instead of a windshield.

Henri Nouwen when discussing how one moves away from resentment writes, “Moving away from resentment requires moving toward something more life giving, and that something is the attitude of gratitude. Resentment blocks action; gratitude lets us move forward toward new possibilities. Resentment makes us cling to negative feelings; gratitude allows us to let go. Resentment makes us prisoners of our passions. Gratitude helps us to transcend our compulsions to follow our vocation. Resentment exhausts us by complicated jealousies and ambiguities, stirring up destructive desires for revenge. Gratitude takes our fatigue away and gives us new vitality and enthusiasm. Resentment entangles us in endless distractions, pulling us down to banal preoccupations. Gratitude anchors our deepest self beyond this world and allows us to be involved without losing ourselves.”[3]For Henri Nouwen spiritual formation is the journey “By which resentment can slowly be transformed into gratitude. Through the spiritual practice of letting go of jealousy and bitterness and forgiving and affirming others, we can make rivals into friends and competitors into companions on the way to true greatness. Servant hood might sound like a pious idea, but it really asks for the humble recognition that our life is not our own to be defended but a gift to be shared. All we have has been given to us. Our part is to be grateful and to give thanks.”[4] If you take a moment to reflect where we expend the majority of our own emotional energy and resources is indicative of how much gratitude we will be infected with and it depends on whether we are defending ourselves or giving the best of who we are to others. Do we choose to escape or engage in healthy community? This leads me to some final thoughts …

Excrement or Expectation: That is the Question

Both pigeons and seagulls are considered dirty birds and even eagles will not sleep in their own excrement. Now being birds I have never witnessed a pigeon staring at an eagle wishing it could be an eagle. Furthermore, I have never witnessed a pigeon or seagull scream out, “HEY THIS NEST IS A MESS AND I AM SICK AND TIRED OF SITTING IN MY EXCREMENT!” Nor will I ever witness this because birds do not have a gift that was only given to humans by God and that is one of the benefits of “IMAGO DEI” being created in the image of God. We frail human beings have been given as my one Professor Dr. Doug Petersen declares, “A Moral Imagination.” A bird has no capacity to reflect and articulate with intelligence, “Hey, I am a beautiful bird.” It being part of creation has no capacity for self-awareness or the ability to make quality assessment of its uniqueness. People can do this because we have been given a moral imagination to steward that which has been given to us by God which in itself is a gift that frees us if we completely understand it to be aware that we are considered valuable to God and he has given us value to and for others. We have been given the gift to have expectation. To live with expectation is to understand the verse in Lamentations 3:22-23, in which the writer declares, “His mercies are new every morning!” Every day we face life and all that it brings but it is never the final decision maker because He is a God of compassion who is for us and He is always about bringing in something new and fresh that will assist us in being more like Him. Resentment keeps us stuck in the excrement of the past rehearsing it and giving it power that it should not have because that power it wields is only there because we have allowed it.

Gratitude is the essential ingredient on our journey that makes us more human. Or in the words of Elie Wiesel, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Michael J. Christensen, Rebecca Laird Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit.  New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, June 29th 2010.

 

[2]  Henri J.M. Nouwen, Michael J. Christensen, Rebecca Laird Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit.

[3] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Michael J. Christensen, Rebecca Laird Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit.

 

[4] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Michael J. Christensen, Rebecca Laird Spiritual Formation: Foll

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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5 Responses to Why Stay Stuck with Seagulls when you can Soar with Eagles?: Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude! Part 1 of 2

  1. Betsy says:

    Seagulls, pigeons and eagles. The thief resentment and the life-giving gift of gratitude. Do we spend our emotional energy defending ourselves or giving the best of ourselves to others? Or do we let resentment rob us of an opportunity to experience the richness of being God’s person to others? (Robert Mulholland, Spiritual Formation in Christ and Mission with Christ). Are we going to soar or stay stuck? We’re fortunate that unlike the birds you mention, we have a choice. Great perspective Al and something for us all to consider.

  2. Ana Edwards says:

    I received this powerful word in my email when I came home from work tonight. I sat down to read it and I was amazed at God’s perfect timing as I needed this word for a personal situation that arose this morning. Half way thru this reading, my thought was, “whoever wrote this has an anointing!” I had to
    Click on the link to see who wrote this. To my surprise, it was you…my pastor from Generations. I overlooked your name to delve into reading the message. Pastor Al, you still got the anointing from God to reach into people’s hearts & struggles and offer us guidance, peace, & hope.

  3. PastorAl says:

    Thank you Betsy for your thoughts they were helpful and Ana thank you for your kind words. God has been really good! Please let your friends know about this blog!

  4. Kendra says:

    I’ve read this several times now, and get something new each time. This ties together two places in which I’m learning extensively, making both places of learning that much more applicable as I make the needed connections to rise up into renewed gratitude. May we all learn to serve one another out of our weaknesses, trusting Christ to glorify himself in the midst of our service.

    • PastorAl says:

      Great thoughts Kendra. I am beginning to articulate it this way: “Love is the Oxygen of the Kingdom that keeps us empowered to constantly know we are His beloved and gratefulness is the posture that we take that allows us to continue to exhale that love wherever we go.”

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