IVP - Strangely Dim - An Experiment in Gratitude: Abundance in Poverty . . . Or Maybe Just in the Rain

July 1, 2011

An Experiment in Gratitude: Abundance in Poverty . . . Or Maybe Just in the Rain

"Good experiments. . . stretch [Jesus followers] into uncomfortable (yet ultimately transformative) realms of experience."

This from a previous post chronicling the first of several seven-day experiments we here at Strangely Dim are conducting as we practice the Way of Jesus, Mark Scandrette style.

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I reread the quote somewhere in the midst of writing about my own seven-day experiment and therefore cringe over what I'm about to admit: I chose to keep a gratitude journal --  writing down ten things each day (without repeating) for which I was grateful  --  while I was on vacation. Did you catch that? I picked to do a gratitude journal while I was on vacation. The epitome of uncomfortable transformation.

It probably served me right, then, when I awoke on the first day to the drone of rain on my nylon tent. Not only the first day, but the next and the next. Instead of drinking in the beauty of the Wisconsin pines (and soaking in the sun) by kayak, I spent the week wrapped in a raincoat, squishing around in soggy wet shoes, dashing from one structure to another trying -- and failing -- to stay dry. Everything we owned smelled like wet dog.

Scribbling the first entry -- "hot cup of coffee" -- into my gratitude journal was a struggle.  Not because I wasn't grateful, but because I was grumpy. And cold.

But as the week progressed and my list grew, I began to notice the outside transformation that formation experts (internally) high five about. My list evolved from hot liquid and warm campfires to good friends and meaningful conversations to the holiness of God himself. Herein lay the beauty of my experiment: I had to look past the rain to discover the truth that gratitude isn't the sum total of things -- even good things. It's a state of being based on the goodness of the One who was and is and is to come.

I wasn't alone. Following one of the core tenets of the book (the Way is not meant to be practiced alone) I asked my friend Nancy to join my experiment.

Her journal was full of simple pleasures: the beauty of a sunrise, the sound of her kids laughing, the colors of creation, the size of her daughter's hand in hers as they walked through the woods. She slowed down. She took time to talk to people she otherwise would have rushed by. She smiled more. The difference, she said, wasn't in what she was writing but how she was viewing her world -- with a grateful heart.

Both of us went from scraping our daily ten off the bottom of our wet gritty shoes to being overwhelmed by the richness that swirled all around us.

In chapter nine of Practicing the Way of Jesus, "Experiments in Security," Mark and his friends wrestle with where true contentment lies. "What if we measured wealth in purposeful work, simple pleasures and meaningful relationships?" Scandrette writes. He then goes on to share his own experience of standing in a mud-floor shanty in El Savador listening to a prayer of thanks from a mother who feeds her family of eight on two dollars a day. "Her ability to see abundance in poverty," Scandrette writes, "both instructs and haunts me."

Abundance in poverty. An American vacation of any kind isn't exactly poverty (regardless of the weather) but the idea of continually looking beyond our possessions, our circumstances and even that which is meaningful for that which satisfies is an experiment we all could stand to do a little more of.

On the last day of our vacation, I stood thigh-deep in a Wisconsin lake. Although the rain had finally cleared, the clouds hovered, gray and thick. It was 57 degrees. My kids were standing next to me, my husband on the other side of them. With a small crowd gathered and tears in my eyes, I listened to my children claim Jesus as their Savior and watched as my husband dipped them into the cold water, a symbol of their own gratefulness to the God who makes all things new.

Abundance in poverty.

Or maybe just gratitude in the rain.

Either way, taking a step, albeit a small one, to practice the way of Jesus in an intentional way gave me new eyes for living in the kingdom of love. Thanks Mark.
Posted by Suanne Camfield at July 1, 2011 10:52 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments

Hi Suanne,

The story of your children's baptism in the lake is beautiful! What a glorious gift. Thank you for sharing it.

I've been keeping a gratitude journal for over 18 months now, and, like you, it has completely transformed the way I see my life. I've written down nearly 2000 things I am grateful for, from simple pleasures to the gift of my twins' lives. And those are just the things I've written down.

Intentional gratitude is probably the most fundamentally transformative spiritual practice I've ever embraced. It consistently focuses my attention on God and His goodness and grace.

I hope you keep writing in your gratitude journal. I'd love to read more about how it changes you.

Warmly,
Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Comment by: Kimberlee Conway Ireton at July 1, 2011 6:16 PM

Wow Kimberly! 2000 things. . . that's amazing! Thanks for sharing your experience. It is pretty unbelievable how being intentional with this practice truly does make you focus on (like you said) God's goodness and grace. And thanks for the encouragement to keep at it. My friend Nancy said she was going to do the same. Blessings on your continued journey!

Comment by: Suanne Camfield at July 1, 2011 10:00 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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