Monday, February 24, 2014

Giving Thanks

I began this post last year. Sometime. A while back. I don't remember when. There were all these molecules on the subject of gratitude bouncing around in my head but they weren't quite coming together easily. So it has been a work in progress...but I think it is finally time to put it up. Enjoy.

Gratitude seems like such a simple thing. "Thank you." We say it all the time in many different ways. But, as Melanie reminded me, it is one of the four types of prayer, the other three being praise, petition and intercession. Although it is not a virtue, as one of the pillars of prayer, there must be something special about it. 

On the one hand, gratitude gives credit where credit is due. So it demands justice and the recognition of benevolence.
“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. 
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference." - Thomas Merton

By expressing thanksgiving to God, we give Him the only thing we can - our recognition and appreciation for all He does. But that is only one one side. On the other side there is what being grateful does to us.

To be grateful means that we recognize that we need another and are not self-sufficient. In fact, St. Ignatius called ingratitude the deadliest sin. It is "the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins." I'd always heard pride called the deadliest sin, but gratitude has an interesting argument in its favor. In being grateful, we acknowledge God as our generous benefactor, from whom we receive everything; He showers us with every blessing and, to understand this, we can only return His love with love. If we truly understand how good He is to us, we wouldn't offend him with our sins. "Gratitude is a good word for this fundamental quality of our relationship with God. Ingratitude, our blindness to who God truly is, is thus the root of all sin." In being grateful, we shift our coordinates, our perspective, our very hearts and souls. It puts us in our proper relationship to God because, once we realize that He is not only who we need but all that we need and that we already have Him, nothing else is needed for our happiness and everything good only adds to it. As Augustine, my patron for the year said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you," and once they rest in Him, they rest in perfect happiness.

"Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking rational creature." Venerable Fr. Solanus Casey

Gratitude makes us happier in other ways as well, even the most simple. We are not preoccupied with what we don't have or aren't but focused on what we do have and how blessed we are. We look at the glass half full and see only all the goodness in our lives. Even if we don't realize how this could effect our relationship to God, it still effects our happiness, and possibly even our relationship to each other. Michelle Duggar, of 19 Kids and Counting on TLC, wrote a recent piece on expectations. (H/T Dwija) In it, she references something her pastor told her, namely that if our expectations are sky high and our reality is on the ground floor, everything in between is frustration, and eventually anger. The same is true of gratitude. If we want everything under the sun but only have a tiny fraction of that, then everything we don't have becomes a source of frustration and discontentment, darkening our heart and our attitude. And, just as we can become angry over our failure to live up to our expectations, we can become resentful of others who have what we want, and perhaps even feel justified to have. We can blame others we think might be keeping us from the things we want and value what we want above people. 

Gratitude is not only the foundation of a happy heart, but it lies at the heart of a happy society. For when we are grateful, we appreciate each other, we look out for each other, we care for the poor, the sick, the needy, and we do not demand that which we do not need but are joyful in the sharing of our blessings. 

I think I have managed, with headphones and the ignoring of my children for a few minutes - thankfully none were harmed in the writing of this post - to piece together enough of my thoughts and the writings I've come across to make a somewhat coherent post. I still feel like there is much on gratitude yet to be said. I'd love to hear any further reflections you might have. 

I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here.

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