Thankfulness--When Thankfulness Is Hard
I was privileged to go to college 15 minutes from my sister’s convent. I remember one particular visit which was right around a time of fasting in the Church. I asked my sister if there was anything that she was going to fast from in addition to what her religious community required.
She told me that she wasn’t giving up anything so much as writing down 3 things that she was thankful for each day; 3 ways in which God had expressed His love for her.
Her words made an impression on me, because, to my naive college mind, it seemed odd that anyone might find it difficult to be thankful. Later on in life, when I encountered more of life’s troubles, I learned first hand the effort it can take to be thankful. It’s hard to accept Christ’s love for us most especially when times are hard.
Gratitude means changed perspective.
Thanksgiving requires attention and effort, a going out of self and a prayer to God. It’s a challenge when faced even with little burdens like counters and sinks filled with dirty dishes! At first glance those dishes are a negative thing, as they indicate a lot of work for me. But after further reflection, I realize I should be thankful that we have both dishes and the food to go on them; thankful that I have clean water to wash those dishes; thankful that I have a loving family to share a meal with.
Gratitude is even more difficult during big things, such as when I buried my son who was miscarried at 20 weeks. But while I weep, I can also be thankful that I made an act of offering to God before he died, thankful that I am privileged to be his mother, thankful for our few minutes together, thankful that I got to kiss his sweet little face (an act I did not get to do with my other two miscarried children), and thankful that, by God’s grace, I will one day see him again in heaven.
Gratitude for our crosses?
At the last supper Christ said to His apostles: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My Body given for you…. This cup is the new covenant in My Blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:15, 19-20)
Christ knew He was about to suffer and die, and He gave thanks for the bread that would become His Body and Blood, broken and spilled, willingly offered as a sacrifice for us. He was thankful because He knew His excruciating death was the price to pay for our salvation.
Later that evening, He sweated blood and prayed that there might be another way if it was the will of the Father (Luke 22:42). As much as He willed it, His self-offering could not have been easy for Christ. This prayer and anguish does not negate Christ’s thanks, but makes it all the more brilliant. Thanksgiving is not easy.
I remind my children that Christ asks all of us to take up our crosses, just as He did. When we participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we are not simply offering up Christ’s Body and Blood that was poured out for us once and for all, but we are also to offer ourselves with Christ, so that we might be transformed into Him along with the bread and wine.
Gratitude means self-offering.
Our self-offering is consummated when we received the Precious Gifts of Christ’s Body and Blood, the “Eucharist,” which means: “Thanksgiving.” What paradox, to be thankful that our God died for us! We are thankful that God allows us to participate in His Cross so that we might participate in His Resurrection.
It takes constant effort for me to teach my children to be thankful, especially since I’m not so good at it myself. Every night we’ve been trying to each find one thing to thank God for especially. It’s a start.
This year my husband will not be joining our family on Thanksgiving. He will be flying planes so that other people can visit their families. We are grateful for his work and happy we can save the turkey for another day when daddy’s home. More importantly, the kids and I will have the opportunity to celebrate the most important Thanksgiving Feast of all: the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Rebecca O’Loughlin is a Byzantine Catholic mother with 5 children (newborn to tween). She enjoys running her shop (Brushes2Halos), writing, and adventuring with her children--whether on a flight with their airplane pilot dad, or through the pages of Narnia.