Over the last month or so, the U.S. has been battered by four hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate). We’ve been shocked white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and killing a counter-protestor, and by a mass shooting in Las Vegas. We been divided by the ensuing debate on racism, and gun control. Mexico City endured terrible earthquakes that killed 300 people. The news is full of war and tragedy from around the globe every day. It’s all almost too much to process—even if we think we were not directly impacted, we are all impacted. It would be unsurprising if all of us didn’t feel a bit of “compassion fatigue”—we’re just overwhelmed by the barrage of tragedy, violence and loss, to the point where it is hard to give more compassion or concern. We shut down.
I’m experiencing a similar sort of related fatigue. Call it “outrage fatigue.” (According to Urban Dictionary and Psychology Today and USA Today, it’s a real thing.) About one year ago, a man running for president was heard on tape bragging in graphic terms about grabbing women “by the p*****” and, essentially, how he abused his power to do so. I was outraged–as I had been by other things he’d said before that. And even more, I was outraged by people who defended this as “locker room talk,” who said things like “boys will be boys.” And I was simply shocked when this man was elected. Like thousands of women in this country, I took to the streets and marched in protest—we did not want a leader who treated women in this outrageous way.
Before that, and since then, I feel like I’ve been outraged almost every day. By racism, by hatred, by ignorance, by the division in our country. I’m even outraged by other people’s outrage. And this weird thing is happening: I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, where I get upset about things that are only mildly upsetting, then the next day, I’m exhausted and just can’t find the energy to care. I have outrage fatigue. The mood in our country is contentious, the conversation rancorous—and all of it is contagious. My gauges feel broken—I don’t even know what I should be fired up about.
I have a strong sense of justice, and I tend to be pretty fearless about speaking up against injustice. But I’m exhausted.
What is the antidote for outrage fatigue? This weekend, I was honestly asking myself that question. I did the things that often help: a run in the woods, an hour of quiet, time with friends.
And though I didn’t know if it would help, I went to church. I attend the Practice, which I’ve written about before. Although it almost ended, the Practice has been resurrected. I’m so grateful for that.
Last night at the Practice, my friend Joan taught on gratitude. All is gift, she said—even though she is no stranger to suffering. (Listen to the podcast here.)
I am not talking about a Pollyanna approach to life, but a conscious, fierce decision to engage in the spiritual discipline of gratitude. Like any discipline, it’s not easy—but it yields benefits. It’s a balm that soothes our fatigued souls.
Gratitude is not easy, when our news feeds are full of violence and disaster, injustice and discord. And yet, that chaos is exactly why we need gratitude as a practice, as a discipline.
Gratitude is really a practice of trust. Will God bring justice to the oppressed? Will truth win? Will love win? I’m not sure, frankly. But taking time to be grateful each day, to name the blessings, to say thank you—these tiny steps begin to change the conversation, open me to peace, invite others into a space in which I’m not so damn angry. If I choose gratitude, I affirm that God is still there, that all shall be well because God is still there. Faith invites me to trust, even if I don’t know how things will turn out.
It wasn’t until this teaching challenged me to be grateful that I began to connect the dots. What if gratitude is the antidote for outrage? What if gratitude could soothe our outrage fatigue?
What am I grateful for? A thousand things—most of which are not things. My children, my family, my friends. After a month of travel, I’m grateful for simply being home. In this chaotic world we live in, I’m grateful to be alive.
Some people keep gratitude journals—an excellent practice. My journal tends to be less focused—containing yes, gratitude, but also confessions, complaints, rants, random lists and heartfelt intercessions. I believe the best way to practice gratitude is to not only say thank you, but to deliberately do things that bring you joy, that increase your gratitude level.
In my new book GodSpace, I write about the practice of gratitude. It is a practice that invites us into relationship, with God and with others. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter:
When we practice gratitude, it not only transforms our relationship with God, but it transforms us and changes our relationships with other people. We experience more joy and become more of a joy to be around. Our positive energy pulls other people in, invites them to practice gratitude.
Discover what brings you joy, what causes your gratitude to flow. See it not as an indulgence but a spiritual practice designed to prime the pump of gratitude in your life. Self-care gets us in touch with gratitude; it’s essential. Jesus would retreat to the mountains or wilderness, carving out time alone to pray, to replenish his soul.
Soul care differs from self-absorption. We strengthen ourselves in order to reengage with others. The best way to express gratitude for what we have is to share it. That seems counterintuitive, perhaps, in our grabby consumer culture. If you’re grateful for your food, share it. If you’re grateful for your home, invite someone into it. If you’re grateful for money, use it to bless others. The paradox of gratitude is if we hoard what we are grateful for, our gratitude turns to fear and an insatiable appetite for more. We’re impoverished by our greed. When we share what we are grateful for, God blesses it and we enjoy it more.
What are you outraged about? Is outrage fatigue starting to creep in? Maybe you’ll want to join me in laying down the anger, choosing gratitude. It’s not something you do one time and you’re done, but a daily practice, an ongoing journey of transformation. What are you grateful for?