Sometimes, meeting other people gives us perspective. The other day I was serving some homeless people in one of the men said that he was thankful to God that he was alive, and he asked us to bring more Bibles next time. The next morning I had to get up early and I was complaining interiorly about the alarm clock and my sore muscles.
On Thanksgiving we all get to go to thank God and to pray for those less fortunate. However, are we thankful all year round? If we realized what God has done for us, we’d thank him constantly.
Gratitude depends a lot on perspective. If I have to deal with a “challenging” teen on a retreat, I can either just suffer through it like, or I can thank God for the opportunity to help this kid come to know Him and to allow me to unite myself with his sufferings. But it isn’t just the extraordinary things like annoying kids but even when I get home and realize I have bread, meat, vegetables and fruit in my kitchen. Am I thankful for that? What is my attitude?
Thanksgiving Day offers us an opportunity to renew our gratitude but we need to use it so we have gratitude every day, not just on a special day. Gratitude comes naturally if we are humble. We often falsely think of humility as somebody who says there are wretched every single minute but that is correctly called “false humility.”Ttrue humility, instead, is not thinking about yourself – whether you’re a saint or horrid – but constantly thinking about God and others. If we constantly think about God and others, we will see how much they do for us, and thus will be grateful. This is why that homeless man was able to be more grateful that I was: he never thought about himself – that he slept on a park bench with a grocery cart containing all his belongings – while I worried over my little struggles – sore muscles from exercising hard and getting up an hour early.
Is it just around Thanksgiving that we remember to remind everybody to thank God for something in their life? This is good but doesn’t go far enough. We will teach gratitude more by how we react to a difficult situation in March than by how many times we remind people to say “thank you” the week around Thanksgiving. And, sometimes the gratitude offered around Thanksgiving is rather false: a millionaire who thanks God for giving him so many blessings, yet never shares those blessings with God, the Church, or his fellow-man.
In the Eastern Church, they have the Jesus Prayer. With every breath you say “Jesus Christ, son of living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In a way this expresses the attitude of gratitude that we should have: with every breath we should thank God for giving us that breath. Usually, we aren’t able to be continuously aware of that. But, I think we can work a continuously thinking about God and others, and forgetting about ourselves.
Humility is the key to gratitude. Every minute we think about ourselves, is a minute we aren’t grateful to others. Every breath, then, becomes an opportunity to thank God for life.