Always Be Grateful in All Circumstances
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
One day a man who thought he had too many problems in his life went to see his priest. He felt overwhelmed with the challenges he faced, and began complaining about how unfair life was. “Why did this happen,” he lamented, “What did I do to deserve all this? It’s just not fair!” The priest patiently listened as the man went on and on with his list of complaints. After a while, the priest quietly responded, “I’d like you to do something for one week, and then come see me again. During this week, I want you to sincerely ask each of your friends, acquaintances, and co-workers how they are doing, and listen attentively to what they say. Don’t talk about your own problems with them but try and listen to what their life is all about.”
A week passed and the man returned to his priest with quite a different attitude. “How did your conversations go this week?” inquired the priest. The man was silent for quite some time, and then he said, “I never realized the pain and suffering, the challenges and disappointments, the difficult situations that so many others faced. When I look at my own life now, I have quite a different perspective. I’m not alone in confronting challenges. And I am grateful for all that I do have, and for all that life has given me.”
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Over the past 10 days, I have gone to probably 140 homes to bring in the Church’s blessing for the New Year. It’s always a joy, and a great privilege for me to enter the homes of our Church family members, and to connect with everyone in their own homes, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Along with this special joy, however, I am also reminded of all the pain, suffering, problems and challenges that so many face. Whether it’s some serious health issue or the loss of a loved one, facing these difficult economic times or figuring out to survive after being laid off, struggling with addiction or depression or seeing a loved one battle these illnesses, dealing with marital problems and/or family issues, and of course the elderly cope with unique issues of their own while their children deal with the same concerns from an entirely different perspective. Our Church family has it all! Yet too often, many of us live in a isolated cocoon with our own problems, oblivious to what is happening all around us. We focus on our own issues and don’t realize that we aren’t alone. So many around us have similar, or even greater struggles than we do.
In some ways, simply knowing that we aren’t alone helps us with our trials. We find comfort from one another, receive encouragement from each other, and can offer support to the other when we share our lives together! We also begin to view our own situation from an entirely different view. This healthy and Christian interaction can help to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and a spirit of thanksgiving even in the midst of whatever problems we encounter. This is an important way of tackling life’s challenges with gratitude.
And as we listened to today’s Gospel story of Christ healing the 10 lepers, and saw only one return with gratitude, we realize how the Church firmly believes that gratitude and thanksgiving play a central role in a healthy and vibrant spiritual life. An attitude of gratitude is not simply a choice, but a fundamental aspect of our life in Christ! Archbishop Anastasios equates one’s inability or forgetfulness of expressing gratitude with a serious spiritual illness! Because when we don’t express gratitude, our pride is lurking nearby. We don’t express thanksgiving, because by saying thanks, we must acknowledge that God and others have done something special for us. Our pride doesn’t like to acknowledge this, and thus hinders us from living a life of gratitude.
So an essential spiritual discipline is learning how to further develop this thankful spirit in our lives! And realizing that we’re not alone and that we can share our struggles with others is one way that we can cultivate gratitude in our lives.
Another important way is for us to realize that each trial or tribulation can be precisely an event that draws us closer to God. The noted spiritual writer and guide Henri Nouwen reminds us that “To be grateful for the good things that happen in our live is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives – the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections – that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.”
Our Lord ultimately holds each of us in his loving hands, and that includes carrying us in the midst of our struggles and difficulties. Life holds plenty of difficult mysteries, yet in the midst of each and every one, God is there. In fact, the challenging moments can become times when all the superficialities of our world are stripped away, and we can then focus more on what is essential and eternal. Remember God is always there, ready to comfort, encourage and guide us, IF we have the eyes to see and an open heart to hear and receive!
Holding on to this perspective of being grateful in the midst of struggles is, as Henri Nouwen highlights, hard spiritual work! An attitude of gratitude doesn’t necessarily come easily. Oftentimes, it requires a conscience choice, a certain decision, a disciplined mind, and forced behavior.
Thus, we must deliberately make gratitude an integral part of our prayer life to God, as well as a central part of our interactions with others. Don’t allow our pride to determine our behavior, but let us continually humble ourselves and thank those all around us - our parents for giving us life, our families for showing us love, our friends who stay near us during our times of need, our teachers and other special people who have inspired us, guided us, and enlightened us. When we pause and reflect on our lives, I am sure that numerous people have touched our lives in positive ways. What is stopping us from thanking them with our words, by writing a letter, and by expressing our gratitude in other ways. And when we look at each situation that we presently face, focus on how this particular challenge is an opportunity to see God’s hand and feel His presence, and thus, lead us to a deeper sense of thanksgiving!
Let us not be like the nine lepers, but imitate the one who took the time to thank Jesus and carried that attitude of gratitude with him wherever he went.