By Fr. Corey Close
As we recently celebrated Thanksgiving, I thought it would be a good time to write about the virtue of gratitude in our life of faith as Christians. St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the spiritual masters of the Church and founder of the Jesuits, placed thanksgiving at the beginning of all that he did.
St. Ignatius knew that we are sinners; we are all tempted into several avenues which kill our ability to be grateful and cause us to fall into anger, resentment and depression. The most common pitfalls for all of us in gratitude are envy and greed.
Envy — whether based on what someone else has or a trait they have that we don’t think we have (such as attractiveness, intelligence, etc.) — is probably the greatest killer of gratitude. If you don’t have what you think you need, then you will never be happy. Envy falls especially under the 9th and 10th commandments and can easily seep out all the joy we have in life. We begin to think we’ve been dispossessed of what is “rightfully” ours, or that God has blessed other people way more than he has done so with us. We feel alienated from God and don’t desire his love for us because we believe that if he did love us, he would have given us what we don’t have.
Greed, the desire for more than what we have, is the other major obstacle to gratitude. We may have all that we need (house, food, family, job), but we want more. Oftentimes greed is rooted in a lack of gratitude; that is, taking for granted what we have but wanting more.
Both of these lies are rooted in the fundamental assumption that we are responsible for ourselves and that God will not really be there for us when we ask him. What we really desire, even more than having our needs met, is that we are loved; we are cared for and protected by our heavenly Father. If we don’t believe that what we have comes from the hand of God, it won’t satisfy us. We’ll feel empty, alone, abandoned, unloved; we will experience sadness and alienation.
These are lies, however. God always provides for our needs but, because of our sinfulness, we either think we need what we don’t (envy) or that we need more than what we have (greed). Further, blinded by our sin, we fail to see what God is providing us at this very moment. In fact, God is loving us into existence right now! If God forgot about us for one second, we would simply cease to exist and no one would remember us. He loves us even when we sin, or else we wouldn’t even have the capacity to sin! This knowledge, that God is loving us into existence at this very moment, is the root of all thanksgiving. I don’t deserve today, but God has given me the day as a gift and has provided an abundance of all I need to survive and thrive. But do I see it?
This is perhaps the toughest thing to get to, especially if we are struggling or suffering right now in any way in our lives. How can we overcome this place of ingratitude, resentment or alienation, especially when we are in the midst of a trial or a loss of some kind? Here are some steps that can help:
Pray for the gift of gratefulness. All that the Lord asks of us is impossible for us to do on our own power. We cannot fake gratitude. So start the process by asking God to give you this gift, especially if you struggle with gratitude.
At the end of each day, go through your day and thank God for all that happened and all that you received. Then, and only then, go through your day and ask for forgiveness for whatever sins you committed. Oftentimes, especially if we struggle with a sin, we can fixate on that and miss all the ways that God was showing us how he loves us. This puts our sin in perspective.
Perhaps once a week, on Sunday, do a “Thank you” list to God, telling him everything you are thankful for in your life. If you want to get really good at thanksgiving, thank him for the things you aren’t thankful for. God has sent those things to help you to grow, even if you don’t see it right now. Soon, you’ll begin to really thank him for those things as you begin to trust how he is challenging you to grow!
Rather than shut our eyes in a vain attempt to fantasize about what we wish we had, may the Lord bless all of us and open our eyes to see the good things he is giving us at this very moment. God bless!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)