Thursday, July 09, 2009

Column: Before all else, give thanks

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Chris had had an asthma attack (nothing will get you wide awake like a kid standing at your bedside saying "I'm having trouble breathing..."), and I'd been up all night, then got on a train to go to New York to give a talk and then out to Fordham for a conference. It was a long day, but not something I was worried about when I was up with my truly miserable son. Coming on top of an ongoing conversation about gratitude at People for Others, and Barbara Szyszkiewicz's reflection, I felt nudged from all sides to think a bit more routinely about gratitude.

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard and Times on 9 July 2009.

You are my God, I give You thanks; my God, I offer You praise. Give thanks to the Lord, who is good, whose love endures forever. — Ps. 118:28-29

My youngest son sent me one of those funny photos by e-mail “to cheer u up.” It showed a mother tiger with a litter of yawning cubs and was tagged, “Motherhood: when sleep is a thing of the past.” I was glad of the cheer; it had been a long night, followed by a longer day. Chris had been sick and I had been up much of the night with him.

As I tried to find ways to make him feel more comfortable in the wee hours, he kept saying, “thank you” — and I kept telling him, “I’m your mom, of course I would stay up with you. I love you.” His mother or not, Chris clearly was not taking my night’s vigil for granted.

A few days later I was reading a short reflection on gratitude by Barbara Szyszkiewicz, a mother and secular Franciscan. Her son Luke was so delighted with his morning bowl of oatmeal — something that took her little effort to make — that he took her by surprise with a hug. She muses, “Just because it’s routine or expected doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve gratitude.”

Both Luke and Chris were grateful for what their mothers had to offer, though it was all part of our day’s work and no less than what they should expect.

In his book “Imitation of Christ,” 15th century monk and mystic Thomas à Kempis urges us to a similar gratitude for the gifts God has for us, small and large: “Be grateful, therefore, for the least gift and you will be worthy to receive a greater. Consider the least gift as the greatest, the most contemptible as something special. And, if you but look to the dignity of the Giver, no gift will appear too small or worthless.”

God’s gifts may be routine, or expected — after all He loves us — but that should not stop us from giving Him our thanks.

The words are routine, I hear them at every Mass: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” And echoing the psalmist, I diligently respond, “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.” The words of the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer that follow are always potent reminders of all I am and should be grateful for.

Yet how often do I leave that stance of praise and thanksgiving at the altar as I go about the routine and expected parts of my day — oblivious to bowls of oatmeal offered and vigils kept? Do I stop even once and offer “my thanks and praise?”

St. Ignatius of Loyola offers us a way to help us take off our blinders and see God at work around us, in the expected and unexpected. His Examen begins by asking you to express your gratitude to God for the gifts you — specifically — have been given. He recommends doing this twice a day — at noon and at the end of the day. This midday reminder to be grateful and notice what I should be grateful for — before the day has entirely spent itself — is a gift.

Wisdom is nudging me from many sides. I hear it from Ignatius and Thomas à Kempis, from Chris and Luke: it is expected, before all else, to be grateful.

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks. You have no desire of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself Your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to Your greatness, but makes us grow in Your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.— From the Preface for Weekdays IV.

1 comment:

  1. Love can be expressed with out words and or hugs (though both are cool), but by simple actions that keep us taken care of.