A small boy enjoyed his collection of toy soldiers and loved playing with them. Another boy came over to play and made a cutting remark about the quality and amount of the first boy’s soldiers. The boy who once took great delight in his military figures now was baffled, diminished and annoyed by the criticism. His aunt noticed and asked the boy to sit down with her and show her each figure and describe its strong points. Afterwards, the boy had renewed appreciation for his own toys and could set aside the criticism enough to have a lot of fun setting up battle scenes.
This lesson in finding appreciation and gratefulness stayed with the boy to manhood and remains a helpful shift in perspective in the face of comparison with and criticism from others. Gratitude leads to a sense of abundance.
Most of us can find many material blessings in our lives, and it is wise to take time to name some of these each day to remind us of our own bounty.
Giving thanks in all things can seem like accepting injustice or harm. This is not the case. We do not give thanks for the cruelty and suffering, but rather find a well of gratitude for our own existence, the love of God, the deep sense of being valued and delighted in by our Creator.
Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is sold to ever more cruel masters. [This book is well worth reading and considering in its entirety at a later discussion.] Each evening Tom reads his Bible, particularly the Psalms, which brings him to a space of deep peace, joy and appreciation. One might be tempted to sneer at this response to cruelty, but it is fascinating to watch the transformation of fellow enslaved people who see Tom finding dignity and peace within and to see how the master is so disturbed by it, he burns Tom’s Bible. Tom, however, has memorized the Psalms and continues his recitation each evening. In grateful connection to God, Tom resists efforts to dehumanize him, and he is able to free others, literally and in spirit.
In a cruel and demeaning situation, gratefulness helps us retain dignity, joy, peace and the strength to resist.
From Brother David Steindl-Rast:
If we're grateful, we're not fearful, and if we're not fearful, we're not violent. Then, we act out of a sense of enough instead of scarcity, and we start to share. We start to enjoy the differences between people, and are respectful to everybody. That can change our society's entire power pyramid.
Gratitude in times of illness is hard; yet, in this, too, we can give thanks, especially for our human connections.
It is beyond painful watching a loved one, particularly a child, die. In two cases I know of, the dying child has shown others how to live fully in appreciation of the people around him or her by offering beautiful acts of kindness. A young girl organized a party for her caregivers, and a little boy began looking for ways to be kind and encouraged his family and others to join him. His club’s motto is: “to be kind to others, be courageous, compassionate, and caring.”.
Gratefulness begins with small steps. For today when we each find ourselves angry, sad or feeling diminished, let us intentionally turn our minds toward giving thanks for what we have, for God’s steadfast love, and for opportunities to gladden the way of people traveling this journey with us.
With every blessing,