Monday, November 23, 2009

Some thoughts on thankfulness

"Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more." --Brother David Steindl-Rast

There is, I think, an ever present tension in the human experience related to the dissonance between our ideal, and the real. When the imperfections of life snag my heart like a tiger's claw, and I hear, "In everything give thanks" my initial reaction is, "How?"

How can I be thankful for the pain that certain ongoing situations produce? Where is room for gratitude when genocide decimates a large portion of the population of a country? What thanks can there be in broken relationships? Where can I begin to be grateful for a relative who both loves and hates me, and I never know what it is on any given day? How can I find thankfulness in watching a loved one repeatedly shooting himself in the foot, or in losing a loved one? When the illusions of life abruptly and with finality disillusion me, how can I say, "Thank you"?

Perhaps for each person, some of the answers will be different. Some may be helped by studying God, and who he is, what he is about, and how he works. That does not hold all of the answers by any means, but there is a certain trust that grows with knowing him better. Job never discovered the reason for his suffering, but in the end, he learned to trust God because he is God.

Occasionally, someone may learn from a character in a fiction book. Claudia Mair Burney's book, Wounded features a young, unwed mother who suffers from fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. She prays to share in Jesus' suffering, and her prayer is answered with more suffering in the form of stigmata. In the end, she rejoices in the sharing as if she had received a precious gift. This is not entirely the solution either.

Some insight may come from places such as Rwanda. Our priest and his wife were in Rwanda for about two weeks, ministering to the people. Sitting in our warm, well-lit houses with enough food, water, clothing, high-speed internet, and more than we really need, the joy of the Rwandan believers is past belief. Less than 20 years ago, these people were embroiled in civil war and massive genocide. Their average yearly income is equal to $1000. And, yet, they reach out to give to and help others.

There probably is not a one-size-fits-all answer, but they all hold some general principles. Each individual will, perhaps, have a personal application. Often that will be heard while sitting quietly, expectantly, and confidently waiting.

Many of our life experiences may not make us immediately grateful. Br. David, however, calls gratitude the key to a happy life. The alternative is misery (and believe me, I have been there). I have found that learning to trust that God knows what he is doing even if I do not, is one of the keys to gratitude.

Susan Price

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