By Charles Johnston:
In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.
-St Teresa of Avila
One of my favorite family traditions is on Thanksgiving my parents would have me write a list of all the things I was grateful for that year, it’s a tradition I’ve carried on with my own children. We are commanded in Scripture to be thankful, and that comes easily enough in the good times, but thanking God in the hard times is a real key to spiritual growth.
When my father passed away a few months ago I found myself drowning in sadness, I don’t know if I’d say depression, but definitely the most sadness I had ever experienced in my 30 years on this earth. The day after his passing, an acquaintance of mine, asked how my father’s cancer treatments were going. I got a little choked up on the phone and gave him the news, what he said was to focus on the good times, on the happy memories and not to dwell on the loss but on what we experienced together. That piece of advice was one of the best I’d ever received. I knew he was right, that I should think of the good times, but I also knew I should be thanking God for them.
I wasn’t mourning like people who have no hope, as St. Paul said, because I knew I’d see my father again. So just to start out I’d remind myself of that promise, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26 RSVCE). That verse ends in a question, Jesus asks Martha “do you believe this?” I knew my father had answered that question with a firm and resolute YES. But thinking about going on living without someone you love, even with the promise of eternal life, was still a hard thing to swallow.
Whenever I’d feel sadness coming over me, I’d stop and thank God that I was blessed to have such a father for the 30 years that I did, I’d remind myself of the people who I knew that had lost their fathers at a young age and how much they would’ve loved another 5, 10, or 20 years with him. I found this approach helped, not just in keeping despair away, but also in making me a happier person. When we count our blessings it really does make us appreciate them more.
I’ve always been thankful for the big thing, but now I’d thank God for the little things too. I started to apply this to not just the loss of my father, but to every aspect of life. When I wake up in the morning I thank God that I am fortunate enough to have a pillow. When I walk outside in the morning I thank God for the sunshine on my face. I first think of those less fortunate and then thank God for my blessings. Putting things into perspective shows you how blessed you really are.
People seem to be naturally pessimistic and cynical, I know I was, but we have a choice to see the good or the bad in every situation. When we face a tragedy or a bad situation we should do our best to find the good and then thank God for that. It’s hard to do sometimes, but as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians we are to do EVERYTHING with thanksgiving to God:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
I still have bad days, I still struggle with certain sins, but overall I’d say my spiritual health has greatly improved, and I’ve come to peace with the loss of my father. When you fill your heart with gratefulness there is hardly any more room for sorrow. When you think of all the suffering in the world, then yours doesn’t seem so bad and you can get out of your sadness and get back to doing what we are all called to do; thanking God again.
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
(This post originally appeared at Catholic365.com )