By Sr. MJ
The other day, I wrote the following in my journal:
I woke up today. That sounds simple and uninteresting, but it’s actually quite a gift. In a time when the leaders of the United States and North Korea are provoking each other, both of whom seem willing to push the “end of us all” button, waking up is a gift, not a guarantee. Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of one more day, the gift of one more sunrise, and the gift of one more soothing cup of early-morning coffee to gently wake me from the gift of sleep.
If you are reading this, waking up is something you do every day (I’m not saying you actually get out of bed). And like most things that become part of everyday life, it’s not something we give much thought to, let alone think of as a gift and thank God for (at least this is the case for some of us). Often, we are not grateful for something until we no longer have it.
For example, on that first pain-free morning, after three or four days of migraine agony and energy-zapping medication, I am extremely grateful for my health as I remember what it feels like to feel good. I take my car for granted until it stops working. I even sometimes take my family or friends for granted until they are no longer in my life and I realize what a gift I have lost.
When I’ve had enough of the blistering heat of summer I remember, with gratitude, the days that were cold enough for a fire, a good book and a cup of something warm. I see this all the time in jail; gratitude for a good cup of coffee and toilet paper suddenly swell up in someone when these things are no longer easily obtainable. When you are locked behind bars, it’s not just your freedom you lose.
The monastic life really opens you up to gratitude. Our vow of voluntary poverty (which is really more about simplicity and necessity over self-gratification) and our practice of silence can really open up space for gratitude. When I had a six-figure income and I wanted something, I usually just bought it. That’s probably why I’ve donated so many things to Goodwill and friends over the years. I also didn’t appreciate what I bought as much as I do now. When your discretionary budget is $25 per week, you put more thought into your purchases and you appreciate them more; at least I do. There is also a wonderful freedom in not being surrounded by clutter.
Most of us know how important gratitude is and we know how much better we feel when we actually practice it. I could give you a list of ways to remember to be grateful, but different things will work for different people, so I don’t think that will be very helpful. What I would like to do is remind you to keep one thing at the top of your gratitude list: God’s grace. One of my favorite authors and preachers, Bruxy Cavey, puts it this way:
"When someone’s love has changed your life for the better, when someone has loved you in transforming ways, when someone has loved you beyond what you deserve, don’t you want to let your life be one of gratitude? Really, gratitude is the only appropriate response to grace."
(re)union: the Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners
And, in case you were wondering, that “someone” who loves you beyond your wildest imaginings is Jesus.
May we all find things to be grateful for every day. In addition to God’s grace, today I am grateful for you!