“Give thanks under all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18). To understand this imperative, we need to remind ourselves that growing in the attitude of gratitude is not a luxury for believers only; it is an absolute necessity in today’s world. It is our best defense against cynicism, disbelief, and distrust of God. It prevents us from sinking into depreciation and despondency.
It may seem with every new wrinkle on our face and every gray hair on our head that we will soon be over the hill. Rather than overlook the here-and-now goodness of people, events, and things, ourselves included, it may be time to say a “thank you” prayer to the Lord. The minute we utter these words, we feel an urge to complete the phrase and find something in our life, no matter how minute, for which we can be truly grateful.
For example, as persons who are growing older by the minute, we may say to the Lord:
- Thank you for the life you have given me. Please give a taste of its blessings to others less fortunate than I.
- Thank you for the gifts of eating and sleeping, for the shelter of my home, and the beauty of my garden. Please give a few of these good gifts to those who are homeless, without shelter, or any refuge of beauty.
- Thank you for the faith, hope, and love you have implanted in my heart.
- Thank you that I may endure patiently whatever crosses I must bear.
- Thank you for letting me find solace in your boundless mercy.
The list of things for which we can give thanks is endless. Once we offer this “Thank you” prayer on a regular basis, we may experience a new sense of hope and joy despite the times we had been inclined to look only at the unpleasant side of life. For instance, we forgot to celebrate the many chances the aging process grants us to live in appreciative abandonment to the mystery. The more we accept life as it comes from the Lord’s hand, the more we see our present-day circumstances as upheld by God. Grateful living enhances our attentiveness to the infinite generosity of our Good Shepherd. To practice appreciation in our words and actions, the following six directives are essential.
First, we need to catch the initial signs of ingratitude and stop their escalation. The joylessness that accompanies ingratitude can impair our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual stamina. It does not help to satisfy our feelings of emptiness, for example, with excessive food and drink. We cannot anesthetize an ungrateful heart; we have to ask God for the grace of ongoing conversion.
Second, we need to heighten our awareness of undue stress, useless worry, and anxious discontent. We ought also to be wary of the penchant toward “negative identity,” that is to say, identifying only with what someone has not said and falling into a fault-finding mentality.
Third, we have to practice the discipline of saying the “thank you” prayer, from waking in the morning to falling asleep at night. We need to bathe our day, as it were, in the holy water of thankfulness. In this way, we curtail the thanklessness we may feel when something does not go as we would have liked.
Fourth, we need to pray for the courage to redirect a bad mood caused by frustration, disillusionment, suspicion, and neglect of prayer to its opposite disposition: compassion for the human condition, more reliance on God, and more commitment to our life of prayer.
Fifth, we ought to widen our vision to include renewed appreciation for God’s first revelation in creation. If we feel unthankful, why not stop what we are doing and take a walk. Let’s give ourselves time to behold the beauty of the world around us. Let the flight of a bird release our soul from its burdens and evoke gratitude to the Creator of all that is.
Sixth, we need to walk humbly in the truth of who we are, knowing that we can never penetrate fully the mind and mystery of God. This humble awareness leads to our becoming less self-centered and more mystery-centered. One of the greatest favors we can bestow on others is to assure them from our own experience that no pit of despair is so deep that one cannot climb out of it with the Lord’s help.
Gratefulness lets us say with conviction that in every end there is a new beginning, in every obstacle a formation opportunity. Grace urges us to smile, not to frown, to gaze on others with compassion, not shaking a wagging finger of unforgiveness in their face.
In summary, being grateful is inseparable from living a grace-filled life. It teaches us to avoid distrustful or discourteous acts of unfriendliness and to give others the quality time they deserve. Gratitude protects us from profiling a person in the light of our own hard-as-stone opinions and prejudices. It teaches us to speak well of others and to cut out of our vocabulary any condescending word or pejorative phrase that reduces daily encounters to a collection of annoying interruptions. We watch with amazement the way the Holy Spirit weaves diverse threads into one grand tapestry. The changes God wants us to make become accessible each time we listen to these scriptural injunctions and etch them on our grateful heart:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:4-7).