Start with Gratitude — A Lesson in Looking Up


Jewish tradition says that the splitting of the Red Sea was the greatest miracle ever performed. It was so extraordinary that on that day even a common servant beheld more than all the miracles beheld by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel combined. And yet we have one midrash that mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience.

Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy, like a beach at low tide. Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. “What is this muck?”

Shimon scowled, “There’s mud all over the place!”

“This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!” replied Reuven.

“What’s the difference?” complained Shimon. “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.”

And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea. And, because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore, everyone else was singing songs of praise. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened.

–Lawrence Kushner

And so it went for me, one sweltering, midsummer afternoon as I sat on the floor of a vacant rental, painting dirty, grey-brown baseboards a shiny white. A little context here would explain that much of the past (nearly) three years of my life has been spent doing as much — painting walls and baseboards of homes in need of a little TLC.

It’s just an excuse for the ungrateful commentary running through my mind. Something like,

“…I’m so tired of painting. Holding the roller makes the joints in my hands inflamed and sore. I’ll paint the baseboards for a while…Sitting on the floor to paint the baseboards makes my back and hips sore. I’m so sick of painting…It’s hot in here. I wish I had a fan…or an air conditioner…an air conditioner would be nice..I wish I was at home doing…anything but this…I need to paint my own baseboards. They’re probably dirty too. I’ll never have enough time or energy to paint my own anything.”

Then with the comparisons,

“…I bet other moms are playing in the backyard with their kids while they’re running through the sprinkler eating popsicles…I bet other people with Lupus don’t spend their days rehabbing houses until their body hurts.”

You get the idea. It was ugly. Uglier than the dirty, torn carpet I was sitting on and would soon break my back tearing up. Not just ugly, but unhealthy. That line of thinking certainly wasn’t doing me any good, and it wasn’t even true. It was only part of the story. Looking down at my paintbrush painting small, thin strokes wasn’t hard work at all. It was just slow and tedious. It gave me a lot of time to think.


I don’t remember where it was exactly, in my stream of complaints, that I finally caught myself. Gross! Could I even imagine saying all of those things aloud? To a friend? Never. Then I remembered gratitude — the best place to start when feeling down.

Eventually, I came around to the story I’d heard of the two men Reuven and Shimon. They were right in the midst of a true miracle, and they couldn’t even see it because they never bothered to look up. Wow! Walking right through the middle of the sea, that has been parted—for your benefit, by the way—and choosing only to complain about the mud. Unthinkable!

Yet here I was so focused on so many ridiculous complaints that I couldn’t even remember all the miracles that have happened in my own life. No I haven’t witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, but I have:

  • Gone from 7 prescription medications to 2 immune-suppressants
  • Had many restful, restorative nights’ sleep
  • Had many days in which I felt truly good and alive and pain-free
  • Left my job to begin working from home and homeschooling my daughters so that I may have more time and freedom to take care of my health and preserve the health of my family
  • Turned much of our yard (used to be grass on a city block) into gardens full of everything edible
  • Raised backyard chickens, only having to walk a few steps to collect eggs every day
  • Turned a portion of our savings into what’s now 17+ rental homes, allowing us to reach financial freedom in less than a handful of years

All of this and all I could find was complaints. I was looking down when all I needed to do was look up.

Listen, I know pain. I know trouble. I’ve been there, in the deepest darkness. And I’ll be there again most likely, but I know how to find my way out — just look up.

These days, when I’m having trouble finding the good in the situation, I start with gratitude. I list at least three things in my mind or on paper for which I’m so very grateful. If I ever have trouble, I just look at my girls. Ok. One of them is 13, so she may not always be the most shining example. But my eight-year-old, she almost always has a smile on her face. Just seeing her smile makes me realize I’ve been given so many gifts that were tailor-made just for me.

Then the clouds start to lift. The darkness fades. And life goes on but in a much more pleasant way.


If you’re struggling with anything today, because of chronic illness or otherwise, try looking up. Start with gratitude. Make a list. Putting pen to paper makes it so much more real. No gratitude is too small to write. Maybe the tip of your right, pinky finger didn’t hurt today. Maybe a stranger smiled and said hello on the street. Maybe a doctor really listened. Maybe you were able to walk a little bit farther today than yesterday. Maybe you got to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while the sun was shining. Write it down.

It’s possible the waters are being parted for you at this very moment. You just need to look up to see it.

As my good friend (We’ve never met, but I’d like to think we’d be good friends if we had.) Jen Sincero says,

I don’t know about you, but when someone doesn’t say thank you after I’ve hooked them up, it’s as glaring an omission to me as if they’ve shown up without their pants on. And the Universe feels the same way.

Put your pants on. Or don’t. That part’s up to you, but do send out some gratitude. You just may be surprised by what comes back.