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When My Pastor Preached About Gratitude, I Couldn't Relate

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When you are suicidal, is it possible to have a grateful heart? My pastor made a point on Sunday that struck a nerve triggering bitterness within me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. That morning, I believed what he said would be impossible for me to do and quite frankly, it annoyed me.

My pastor spoke about waking up each morning with an “attitude of gratitude” in order to set the tone for the day, moving our hearts and minds toward light and away from darkness. It could be as simple as thanking God for waking up and the ability to get out of bed. When our feet hit the floor thank Him for the ability to walk. As we get into the shower we should appreciate the hot water as it flows over our head. However, as someone who often goes to bed praying for God to end my pain, how could I ever embrace that? At that moment, guilt completely washed over me because it sounded so easy, yet I couldn’t ever imagine doing it. If this is how we learn to be grateful, it definitely wasn’t possible for me.

When I am in the midst of a depressive episode, the mere act of opening my eyes in the morning is accompanied by disappointment and resentment. God, why do you insist I keep waking up? The weight of the fog of depression engulfs me, detaching me from the outside world penetrating every inch of my body and mind. I am debilitated by the possibility of any movement. The thought of getting out of bed carrying this weight of blackness is nothing short of torture. Trying to force myself to appreciate being alive, having the ability to walk and the presence of hot water for a shower seems absurd. It is extremely unlikely I will be able to remove myself from my bed. All I can do is cry as I wonder why God would have me face another day in this state of mind.

Of course I believe this is completely selfish. How dare I not be thankful for every breath I take and all that God has given me? But mental illness wreaks havoc with my thought processes and what should be obvious, makes no sense.

There are people who would give anything for the ability to get out of bed on their own, and here I am resentful because I can. I want to be grateful. I long to say it from my heart and truly mean it. Depression causes me to look at all of my blessings and tells me I am undeserving. Deep down, I know the truth but I am consumed with guilt for my feelings of despair and I become trapped in a maddening battle for my mind.

Recently, a friend of mine died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and two children the same age as my boys. Not once have I ever thought he was selfish. I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve been trapped in a suicidal state of mind and I know what it feels like to firmly believe there is no other option. But after he took his life, my frame of mind ultimately changed. His pain may now be over, but his family’s pain had just begun. Whenever I think about suicide — even if it’s only passive — I redirect my focus to the faces of my family. The reality of what they would have to deal with if I ever ended it is unbearable. Despite any desperation I may feel, when I see their faces I am convinced I am supposed to stay, no matter how difficult it may be for me.

The memory of my friend and his family who has to continue on without him sparked a desire to find a way to appreciate my existence. My pastor’s words along with the memory of my friend clicked. I immediately realized it was possible to shift my focus to my loved ones and I wanted to express my gratitude to God. Maybe there are steps I can take to change my heart. I’ve been trapped believing if I couldn’t be grateful for something as simple as waking up, I didn’t deserve to be alive and was incapable of being thankful for anything.

But when I reframed my mind I had a revelation.

I am so grateful my children are going to wake up tomorrow and still have a mom who loves them more than anything. I am grateful they will have a mother in the bleachers cheering them on and supporting them at a basketball game. Their mom will be there to make breakfast for them and pack their lunches. They will not have to live without me. Thank you God for protecting them and helping me step out of the darkness. Thank you God for allowing my husband to continue having a partner to share his life with.

There have been days this week when depression has threatened to take me down. I’ve felt my mind “go there.” I’ve winced upon waking the moment I realize I have to survive another day. However I’ve forced myself to get out of bed and go immediately into my sons’ rooms to wake them for the day. Looking at their peaceful faces, I become truly grateful to God for protecting them from waking to a nightmare they would have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

I hold on to the hope I will wake up one day with excitement and gratitude for the gift of life in and of itself. Never before have I believed that possible. When my pastor spoke about it on Sunday, I sat there beating myself up because I was convinced I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it. It seemed pointless. But God showed me it is possible when I take the focus off of myself.

No matter how badly I’ve felt, I’ve never wanted to cause my loved ones any pain. I truly only want what’s best for them — a life full of blessings, love and joy. Opening my eyes may be painful. Facing a lifelong illness is daunting, but when I do it for my family, I know they won’t have to open theirs to devastating news and pain.

As I was laying in bed on the eve of my son’s 13th birthday, telling him about the night he was born, I became overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I thanked God profusely for carrying me through the worst parts of my illness to bring me to that very moment to celebrate my son becoming a teenager. I was able to tell him how proud I am to be his mother and how much joy he brings into my life. When the bad days come, I know I will get through because I’ve discovered the treasure of gratitude buried in my heart while gazing at my son’s face, taking my eyes off myself in order to focus on the things for which I am truly grateful.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Sean824.

Originally published: April 7, 2017
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