By Amber Kinloch
Gratitude is one of the easiest virtues to display, but is often overlooked. Anyone can say “thank you,” and the occasions for doing so are innumerable. Hopefully, these two words already abound in your daily life.
Gratitude as a habitual disposition is rarer and far more radical.
What do you say “thank you” for? Do you mean it? Do you give thanks no matter what happens?
Exterior Thanks vs. Interior Gratitude
Though we might seem to make frequent use of the words “thank you,” many of us still seem profoundly unhappy. We practice gratitude exteriorly, but often it has not stamped itself upon us interiorly. Why?
I’d argue that it’s because we have not yet taken to heart St. Paul’s words “in all circumstances give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We show our appreciation for the things we like or that we feel obliged to acknowledge ourselves indebted for. But when it comes to things we don’t like or that we perceive as going wrong, we complain and gripe and so lose our peace. Or we fail to take note of things we take for granted: our family, our job, this very day God’s given us. Why?
St. Paul, perhaps, gives us the answer again when he writes: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Your car getting smashed up in an accident? That’s for the good. That diagnosis of cancer for your mom? Yep. The bad economy, high bills, and your seeming inability to pay off your mountainload of debt? Yes, these too.
He’s accounted for it all, and in and through it all, He’s working for the good.
Do You Trust Him?
It’s easy to trust God when everything’s going fine and dandy. It’s when the suffering hits that we are tested. It doesn’t even have to be great suffering. In fact, most of us, probably, are worn down more by smaller daily crosses.
It’s the long commute to and from work. It’s seasonal allergies, that lingering cold, or the aches and pains of old age. It’s the day-in, day-out labor of caring for a toddler and baby. It’s the corrupt politicians spouting venom on the news. It’s that one family member or coworker with that defect you can’t stand—a sharp or blunt tongue, a nervous temperament, an inability to perceive messes, or an obliviousness to times and dates.
We go through our day, and the little griefs and tensions pile up. Too often, by day’s end they’ve crushed us unless we make a conscious effort to fight them. But how?
Gratitude. Not surface level gratitude. Not gratitude for the general stuff: food, clothing, shelter, etc. No, deep, habitual gratitude which perceives God’s Hand at work in every aspect of life no matter what happens.
Is a stomach bug laying waste to your household? Memories are being made as your children huddle together on the couch and listen to you read. Is the car still in the shop? Praise God. He’ll see you have it back when you need it. Can you not seem to get out of debt no matter how hard you try? It’s a blessing. In your poverty, you are truly learning to depend on Divine Providence. Are you still walking in spiritual darkness and lacking peace? Take heart. God is strengthening your Faith. He will not test you beyond your limits.
This deep, habitual gratitude is, in short, a manifestation of trust. Jesus, I trust in You! Jesus, I trust that You will preserve me. Jesus, I trust that You will save me in the end.
This is not to minimize the pain—agony, even—of suffering. Intense or long-term sufferings especially try our faith. We might spend months or years pondering the “Why?” behind something and still lack a satisfactory explanation. It can be crushing to press onward when the bad firmly seems to outweigh the good.
To thank God in the midst of such things is grueling. It is radical. Frankly, it seems downright crazy. Who thanks God for depression, the loss of a desperately needed job, or the death of a child? Why would we thank Him for such terrible things?
God Knows and Understands
God’s been through suffering of every kind and of a depth never to be plumbed by the human mind. Every suffering you experience is related to His Passion. When you or I suffer, it is not only we who suffer. Christ suffers in and with us.
And why do we suffer? We suffer because we’re called to imitate Christ. We cannot do this without the Cross.
We human beings tend to run from the Cross. Very few, if any, of us would freely embrace the Cross. We need It laid upon us first, and then we need time to learn to bear and embrace It. This is why God allows us to experience suffering during our earthly lives.
The suffering God permits you to undergo is not arbitrary. He handpicks the unique cross you are called to carry, as a share in His Cross. It is custom fitted so that it rests well upon your shoulders, and it doesn’t weigh a single ounce more than you can bear. Christ Himself carries the heaviest part of this cross. And, should it be necessary, He will carry the whole of it when you grow too weak to bear it.
If we are truly sincere in our gratitude, we will recognize all this and thank God when we’re slammed by suffering. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel crushed or beaten. It doesn’t mean we won’t wonder, “Why am I suffering this?” or “How long will this last?” It doesn’t mean that we can’t feel angry or upset at certain moments along the way. What it does mean is actively working to put our trust in Him even in the darkest moments, when it defies logic to do so.
Will we feel peace and joy? Will we be given any consolations? Maybe, maybe not. But we will be built solid rock so that we will not collapse. In the meantime, through it all, God draws us ever closer to Himself, our ultimate treasure.
Yes, in everything give thanks; for to have God and to possess Him is to possess all.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.