January 24, 2012

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Out with a friend the other night, the conversation turned (as it is wont to do when I’m out with girlfriends) to complaints and annoyances.  “Why can’t she be more kind?  What is his problem?  How come I’m struggling and everyone else seems to be thriving and successful?”

In reflecting on the evening, I wasn’t left with an uplifted or satisfied feeling, in fact, I was left feeling more miserable than when I arrived.  There is something about whining and complaining that not only brings everyone around you down, but also keeps your mind firmly planted in the fields of regret, annoyance, jealousy, envy and disdain.  In other words, complaining is a downright joy-killer. 

A confessor once told my husband that the fastest way to contend with feelings of discontent, disillusionment or just the general malaise of unhappiness is to be grateful – for anything really. He asked my husband to focus on only those things in his life that he was blessed with, to try and recognize what he had instead of what he didn’t have.  I have never forgotten how he related his blessings to me, and the overflow of gratitude that followed… thanksgiving for considerable blessings such as life, love and freedom.  And how he also acknowledged the smaller things like a crunchy apple or a good mystery novel. 

In her book “One Thousand Gifts”, Ann Voskamp says,

“In the original language “he gave thanks” reads  eucharisteo”.  The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.”  Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks.  He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave    thanks.  But there is more, and I read it.  Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.”  …That might be what the quest for more is all about – that which Augustine claimed, “Without exception…all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.”  ~Pg.32

Ann tells her poetic life story, how she has waded through the tragic to arrive at a place of gratitude and love, and through them, happiness.  And it all starts with simply learning to notice the gifts we’ve been given, and return thanks to God. 
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1Thessalonians 16-18 states, “Always rejoice.  Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all…”

And the bible doesn’t just exhort us to be grateful this once.  Giving thanks is mentioned in just about every book and in almost every Psalm.  Seems like a pretty simple thing to do to attain a modicum of happiness.  Simple, yet so not easy.  When I’m down in the dumps, the last thing I want to do is focus on the good things in my life, so discovering them may feel contrived at first.  

But once you become aware of the gifts you've been given and begin to acknowledge them, more and more of God’s goodness just pops right out at you, until you come to the right understanding that everything in your life is gift, even the unfortunate and painful.  And you can honestly thank God in joy and sorrow alike, and really mean it.  Gratefulness becomes habitual, a way of life instead of something you do once a year after your birthday.

“If those who have no confidence in [Jesus], nor respect for Him, do not receive any of the favours He offers to all, they have only their own bad disposition to thank for it.  It is true that all cannot aspire to the same sublime states, to the same gifts, to the same degree of perfection; yet, if faithful to grace, they corresponded to it, each according to his degree, they would all be satisfied because they would all attain that degree of grace and of perfection which would fully satisfy their desires.  They would be happy according to nature, and according to grace, because nature and grace share equally in the ardent desire for this priceless advantage.”
~Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence


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