Last month I was asked to give a talk on the subject of “Giving thanks to God for all—Blessings and challenges”. For me it seemed a daunting task. I’m much better at complaining about stuff. Or commiserating about about the sorry state of life on our planet. Or bitching about traffic, my neighbors’ dogs, my co-workers, life in general. Poor me!
I turned to Scripture and found in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, that he tells us to “Rejoice always.” to “Pray without ceasing.” And, “In all circumstances give thanks.”
IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES GIVE THANKS! Think about that! We must even be thankful for the crappy stuff: Car trouble; burnt toast; a bad hair day; a headache – sometimes all these things happen on the same day.
And we need to be thankful for the trials in our life, too: Career challenges; doubts about our vocations; marital discord; financial difficulties; raising teenagers.
And most difficult (for me) is the heart-breaking stuff: Serious illness; drug or alcohol addiction; divorce; death of a loved one; facing our own mortality.
How can I give thanks in all circumstances? How can any of us?
First, for me it helps to be thankful for the good things. Having an attitude of gratitude takes patience and practice. Instead of blindly accepting all the good things in my life as if I am somehow entitled to them or that I somehow earned the goodness in my life, it helps to remember that our blessings come from God. Many of you are better at this than me – so thank you for your witness.
Secondly, I am reminded of what Fred Rogers is credited as saying on the ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’ television show: He said…
“When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news and my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
The idea of course is that even during the most unimaginable of times; during tremendous tragedies or horrific disasters, love can still be found. This doesn’t just make heroes of the helpers but also it reminds us that each of us can make a difference. Even during the darkest of days, we can bring healing to one another.
Finally, it helps me to remember that I am loved and cared for in a thousand little ways each day. I live in communion with others who will carry me when I can longer take another step. I know that I will have a hand to hold; a shoulder to cry on; a friend that I can count on; a God who will never forsake me.
So “Rejoice always.” “Pray without ceasing.” And “In all circumstances give thanks.”
This April my Mom passed away. Mom always seemed younger than her 90 years. She was proud, beautiful, strong, well-informed and quick-witted. Mom wasn’t large but she was definitely in charge!
Mom was a breast cancer survivor in the 1990’s and after her surgery she was blasted with radiation, which was the normal treatment at that time. Ironically the treatment that saved her life 30 years earlier, likely caused the pulmonary fibrosis which ultimately led to her death. But I am forever thankful for those 30 years.
Still it was tough watching Mom struggle with her breathing and her weakness due to oxygen deprivation for the last year or so. This was the Mom who took care of us and suddenly we were struggling with the heartbreaking reality that we needed to take care of her. Mom who was once Super Woman was now weak and helpless. Mom, who had bandaged our knees, held our hands, kissed away our tears, solved our problems, needed our help now, more than we felt we could give. But we tried.
I think about my own children and grandchildren and how my heart aches at times when I hear of their misfortunes or disappointments. I think about how my heart soars when I hear about their triumphs and accomplishments. But mostly I cherish the simple times; the quiet moments; the unspoken love we share.
I’m certain that Mom felt that way, too. One of the last times we were together, Mom and I just sat silently and held hands. There was no need for words. I remember feeling for a moment like a little boy and that Mom had everything under control. It was sublime. I have thanked God for that day many times since.
Mom taught me about God, and she taught me how to pray. Her example of faith lives on in her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. God is love. And Mom enveloped all of us in that love.
So, I rejoice not because Mom died but because I am her son and she loved me.
I pray without ceasing that the love she shared will continue to grow and touch generations of my family even beyond my imagining.
And yes, even in her death, I give thanks for a peaceful passing and the gift she was to so many of us. My grandson Noah and my granddaughter Anna were profoundly affected by her death. They loved her and miss her terribly but because of Mom’s witness and the faith instilled in them, they also now believe that she is an angel in heaven watching over them. I believe she is, too! What great comfort it brings to know that Mom continues to surround all of us with her love. I recently discovered a drawing in my granddaughter’s sketch book – it’s her image of Mom as an angel in heaven.
With her beautiful drawing, Anna reminded me that we are NEVER alone in our rejoicing, and in our prayer, and in our thankfulness.