Trust in Him

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gratitude


"The less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of his great luck and of all the gifts of God."
G.K. Chesterton

Look at this little girl in the painting above. She is very small, and finds herself in a field of "beautiful flowers." The flowers she is picking are very basic... not roses or lilies, and certainly of no monetary value... but to her this is an abundance of wealth. Indeed, because she is small, the field looks very big. Because her eyes are young, and not attuned to the riches of the world, these wildflowers are extremely beautiful. What if we were to apply this principle to every aspect of life?

Few go through life without taking everything for granted, and these few are, no doubt, either the very poor or the very saintly. We are born expecting to be taken care of, and continue to have a high sense of self-justice and what we deserve as long as we live. Therefore, when we are hungry, we expect to eat. When we are tired, we expect there to be someplace warm and dry to sleep. Those who know what it is like to be without these things have some idea of the gratitude one has when he receives these necessities after being without... but even those people would no doubt believe that they have a right to them. Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to be naturally thankful for everything... as if we deserved nothing, and every little thing we received was a gift.

St. Francis discovered a very wonderful thing about poverty. The less he expected to receive, the less he claimed ownership of, the more he seemed to have for which to be grateful. One who is starving, without any hope for receiving bread, considers himself very fortunate indeed to receive even a few homely crumbs. One who thirsts, and does not expect to be satisfied, is jubilant over the sight of even a murky spring. One who does not assume he has the right to the warmth of the sun, the shade of the trees, or the song of the birds must be ever filled with an immense gratitude! Francis had already discovered the secret when he showed us that he who has nothing, possesses everything. He who claims to deserve nothing always has far more that he expects.

Gratitude can have an immense effect on our lives. If we truly understand that we deserve nothing, and thank God heartily for the everything He has bestowed upon us, we shall find ourselves very happy indeed! We will be moved to the greatest love for God and our fellow man simply because they have been so gracious to us, and we will desire to offer love unconditionally, without asking return, because the return we have already received is greater than we hoped. Is this such an unattainable goal? Sit quietly and think for a moment... God created us from nothing, presented us with this wonderful world, and loves us immensely... we did nothing to earn this. He gave us two hands with which to work, five senses to perceive the world around us, and an awesome mind and soul that make us a person. Everything we have and are has been presented to us so that we may use it to live and know, love, and serve God.

To be thankful is to possess some measure of humility. The more grateful we are for all that we have, the more we insist that God is very good in all He does for us, the more humble we are becoming. We stimulate God's pity for His "poor one" because we are always so satisfied, even with the bad things. Yes, we can be thankful even for suffering and imperfections in ourselves, because everything, when used to serve God, brings us closer to Him. We know that Jesus loved children... but why? Perhaps it was because they were so little and weak, and admitted this to be so. They are without arrogance and find the greatest pleasure in the little things of this new world they are discovering. Perhaps it is because they love for the sake of loving, and have not learned to have higher agendas for reward for their love. Many meditations on the humility and holy poverty of a child (at least a theoretical "child") will spring up if we spend a few moments thinking about it.

In the beatitudes Jesus makes an attempt to express this form of gratitude, among other things. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers... not those who fly after things for themselves, but those who have little and admit their poverty before God. Not those who fight for what they deserve, but those who make peace and take nothing more than the share given to them. Not those who take for granted the things they have, but those who must be courageous and work for the very necessities of life... for these understand even more greatly their dependence on God.

To be thankful is not to make a half-heart cry of thanksgiving for something we already believe we should have... but to express the sincerest gratitude because we and all our efforts are nothing and everything we receive is a gift.

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