It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well. These days, it’s common to hear folks say: “I am blessed,” when the list of positive things, things they feel good about, makes their life feel abundant and makes them feel rich, rich in blessings. It’s harder to be grateful when things are not as good, when we are feeling down, when the blessings we have are not nearly as apparent, to us.
I’ve always loved the New Testament verse: “Be joyful always, pray at all times, give thanks in all circumstances.” Years ago, I read Corrie ten Boom’s account of the years she spent in a concentration camp in Europe. She kept herself – her spirit alive – by living out those words. Sometimes I remind myself of that verse, to get through a day.
This morning as I write these words, the people of Nepal are digging themselves and each other out from the rubble of a major earthquake that has devastated the country. On Mount Everest, climbers who survived the quake are scouring through the debris to find friends, other adventurers. Internet access is limited, and so people are finding ways to let their families know they have survived – so far. As I sit here in my sunlit basement office, I am in luxury. I listened this morning to the accounts of survivors on the BBC news. A mother sits with her children, grateful to be alive, wondering how they will yet survive. Aftershocks shake the country. How will she feed her children?
I am deliberate about making time and space in my privileged life here in the West for those people around the globe – and not far from here – whose lives are not as privileged. I think of it as part of my world citizenship to remember the lives of people who are struggling for food, for water, for shelter, for safety. Since news travels so quickly around this planet earth, we hear the stories so much more quickly, and so much more vividly, it seems. I am deliberate because I want to remember that my life is richer than most human beings can imagine. My access to food, to water – even in this drought in Northern California – to basic, basic necessities, is simply a part of the way I live, and the way I expect to live. How can I pray for these people? Is there a way, by changing my/our lives here, I can effect change?
And what does it mean to “give thanks in all circumstances” in my life’s conditions?
Years ago, I read about a man whose life was full. Educated and successful, he and his family had a beautiful home. His children were beautiful, well-educated, and successful. He had everything he needed or desired, it seemed. Every day, he would say: “I am blessed.” One day, one of his beautiful daughters left for a trip to India. On her arrival, she called her father to check in. The next day, she was gone – murdered.
From that day forward, as her father and her family made that long and arduous and lonely and necessary journey to grieve her loss, her father contemplated what it really meant to him to be “blessed.” What did blessing mean now, in the face of this unimaginable, unnecessary loss? Would he ever be able to say again, “I am so blessed?”
That is a question for us all. I know – through my own years of learning to pray (we are always a beginner at such things, I think) – that so many of our days are not good days, or happy days, or days filled with all we want and desire. Many of our days – if we are honest, and if we choose to live our lives to the fullest – are filled with loss, with unfilled desires, with disappointments, with sadness, some of which will never end. What does it mean to say: “I am grateful,” in those days?
I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for my one journey. I am grateful for the beauty of each day. I am grateful for food on the table, for the privilege I have as an educated white person in this society. I am grateful for long, enduring friendships – in spite of me, I think. I am grateful for the family I had in my life – as dysfunctional as any family, but still, a family in which there was love. I am grateful for my partner in life.
I have been challenged, as we all are, by the changing winds of life. Life is hard for any one, any where on the planet. I can’t compare my own challenges to the people I have on my mind today, in Nepal. It is hard to be a human being, invested with this life.
And so, in my own feeble practice, I try to give thanks, every day. For awhile, I wrote a note of thanks to God, to the Universe, to Life, on a little sheet of paper every day, and put it in a drawer I had emptied for the purpose of holding my gratitude. Now, I simply try to be grateful. I have had moments when I have given thanks – did I feel grateful then? – in the midst of some crises of my mind or spirit. That, as I said, is my practice. Today, it is easy. Some days, it is not.
I stay away from saying I am blessed. That doesn’t work for me. Why am I blessed? Why is someone else not blessed? Who is to say? What does it mean, really? I like to stay with the tide of life, the ups and downs, and I like to be grateful, when I can.
This is my practice. And for that, for the abundant, privileged ability at all to think on these things, to reflect on life, I am grateful, for now, for this moment. I hope you can be, just for a moment, also.