The Gratitude Paradox

I have noticed that the most meaningful things in my life are the things that I could not achieve, but that I have been given by grace. I’m thinking of things like my wife and my son, my friends and the community that cares about me, the strange and unaccountable serendipity in my pursuits that is beyond my ability to procure. Conversely, the things for which I have worked the hardest-my skills and various achievements-at times seem empty of value and remarkably less than significant.

Moreover, I find that gratitude is increased in me by those things that I could never deserve, but have been given freely. Conversely, the things that I feel I most deserve, many of which I am grasping to attain, only serve to produce in me an eager craving for more and more. In other words, they never seem to satisfy. The most satisfying things in my life are, I believe, those things which I could never earn, those moments when the enormity of life in its beauty slip over me like the last rays of the setting sun on an otherwise cloudy day.

I think that these are probably the things that we think of most fondly as we slip from this life’s shore. When I die, I don’t believe that I’ll be remembering how elevated I became in my career, or how many CDs or books I released. I don’t think that I will ponder fondly how many people knew my name and praised it, or how exalted my reputation became as a musician or songwriter. Rather, I think that I will recall holding my son and singing to him as I rocked him to sleep on an August night in Portland, the way that my mother’s wrinkled hands looked on the keys of the piano as we sang together for no reason but joyful harmony, or the huge snowflakes that pounded my wife and I as we gleefully ran barefoot outside sometime after midnight on a January night. Interestingly, these are the things that are perhaps most easily taken for granted in the living of life, but also the most cherished in the losing of it.

Perhaps grace works this way: God gives in our undeserving so that there is no mistaking the source of His goodness, yet withholds in our striving so that we are driven to the end of ourselves, to our inevitable bankruptcy of spirit.

1 Comment

  1. chris · October 9, 2008 Reply


    What a timely read — though, that doesn’t quite seem to capture the impact this had on me.

    I’d been pondering a few of these ideas while my son was still in the hospital. In my time of prayer I found myself struggling between what I do and don’t deserve, what is and isn’t important, and should I look back in years to come what would I cherish most. Achievements and reputation paled in comparison to my concern for things I had been freely given — namely, my wife and son.

    What a beautiful time, when I come to the end of myself and am able to see clearly…if only for a moment. And it’s in this moment it seems silly to return my attention to the vanities that become my addiction. However, knowing myself, it’s a scenario I will likely struggle through again and again. So I am thankful for a gracious and loving God. I’m a fan of the way Frederick Lehman framed it, “Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made — were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade — to write the love of God above would rain the ocean dry — nor could the scroll contain the whole tho stretched from sky to sky.”

    Thanks for writing this.

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