Gratitude in Pain: Reflections on Psalm 90, the seventh Psalm of the Tikkun HaClali
Every week at my family’s Shabbat dinner table, we all share something we are each thankful for.
Even in the hardest weeks, when there is plenty of pain to be acknowledged, there is always a moment of grace worthy of gratitude.
Practicing gratitude does not negate the real suffering that we humans endure; neither does it make our suffering comprehensible or worthwhile. It merely says that our experiences of beauty and joy are true, even as our experiences of pain and suffering are also true. The practice of gratitude is the choice to celebrate and lift up the moments of joy and beauty.
Life is neither beautiful nor painful; it is both beautiful and painful, all at once and we can choose which attributes we allow to fill our limited days.
As the Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 90, the seventh of Rebbe Nachman’s Tikkun HaClali, we all have limited time on this earth. The years of a lifetime are 70; perhaps more, perhaps less. (Ps 90:10) We hope, we pray, sometimes with unmatched devotion for more time - the time for a life to unfold. Perhaps without even knowing it, an infant prays for a tomorrow in which it will grow out of childhood, lonely people pray for a tomorrow in which they will fall in love, childless people pray for a tomorrow with children of their own, parents pray for a tomorrow in which they will see their children grow. We always long for another tomorrow.
While the longing for a tomorrow in which the sun will come out and our prayers will be fulfilled is real and legitimate, so too is gratitude for today, even when today is bleak.
The days we have are ours to spend as we see fit. We can choose to be consumed with anger and die by wrath (90:7), but that would be to mourn what we lack more fully than we love what we have, even if what we have is less than what we had hoped for.
The Psalmist asks that she learn to number her days so that she might yet be a prophet with a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90:12) The wisdom of the heart is the practice of counting the days. Not the other days, the future days, the days we hope for, but the real days, the ones with their problems and their limits, the ones we have right here and now, the ones that are worthy of gratitude.
The practice of gratitude, every single day, is how we cultivate our hearts towards wisdom.