Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Listen to these words from Holy Scripture - the will of God for us is to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give to give thanks in all circumstances.”

God’s will for us is to be connected with Him in prayer, and thus be filled with joy and thanksgiving. His will is NOT for us to complain about life, to grumble about what we don’t have, to whine about our circumstances, or to compare how others may have something we don’t. Our Lord Jesus wants us to face life with joy – His deep, inner joy that abides despite any disappointments and struggles. Christ wants us to confront life not with pessimism and negativity, but with thanksgiving and gratitude!

How beautiful it is to live lives of gratitude and thanksgiving. Living with such a spirit transforms our whole perspective on life. We won’t focus on what we don’t have, or on what others have. Instead, we thank God for each and every blessing and strive to share those blessings with those who don’t have what we have! We understand life itself as the greatest gift - the world around us; nature and beauty; love and family and friends; health and well-being; our Lord Jesus Christ and His beloved Church; faith and the meaning of life it gives us; the opportunity to experience the Kingdom of God here and now. Life is the most precious gift and we thank God daily for all His blessings.

Living lives of gratitude means even giving thanks to God when we face the unexpected and tumultuous challenges and tragedies of life, for when we face life’s challenges with gratitude, we will learn new perspectives and grow to new heights.

I remember watching a “CNN Heros” program which highlighted a woman who was a breast cancer survivor. “When I faced this challenge in my life,” she said, “I didn’t ask God “Why Me?” but instead “What for?” And then I discovered how I could turn this challenge around into a blessing for others!” She responded by realizing how women don’t have health insurance, and because of this, never do any testing to detect early stages of cancer. As a result of her own illness, she began mobilizing volunteers who have gone door to door throughout low income neighborhoods – to tens of thousands of homes – offering to these women free testing to help them detect early stages of cancer.

Not ‘why me’ but ‘what for!’ That reflects an attitude of gratitude!

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Here is an important secret of life, and an imperative attitude for the Christian journey. If we learn to rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances, then we will be people filled with a positive spirit. No problem can ever overwhelm us. Nothing will defeat us. We won’t allow the negative and unexpected events of life to control us.

We will have cultivated an attitude of gratitude.

Of course, this isn’t always easy. Our problem is that we forget to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances. In fact, we often are tempted to do the very opposite. We complain. We worry. We get anxious. We become angry. We forget about God’s role in our lives and ignore the greatest source of comfort and inspiration – our faith.

In order to cultivate gratitude as an ongoing perspective of live, we have to understand gratitude not as a spontaneous emotion, but as a spiritual discipline to be lived every day. As Henri Nouwen taught, “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and all I have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated.”

Just like with other spiritual disciples, it takes effort. Christ teaches us to forgive one another even up to 70 x 7. We are called to forgive even love our worst enemies. This is surely one of the most challenging commandments and disciplines in our lives. When we forgive and love in such a manner, it isn’t simply an emotion that naturally pops up in our lives. No. It is a discipline which we cultivate, and then we learn to forgive even when our emotions don’t agree with our actions. In fact, this is how we develop all our spiritual disciplines, whether of prayer, fasting, or almsgiving.

In like manner, we develop a daily discipline to look for ways to express our gratitude. We develop “eyes of gratitude.” We see everything in life as a gift from God, and learn to thank Him continuously throughout the day for things both small and great. When we are tempted to look at something as a problem, a nuisance, a matter of great anxiety and worry, we instead put on our “eyes of gratitude” and thank God for whatever new challenge He has placed in our lives. Without God the problem may be a serious issue. With God, we remember that all things are possible, and that He is with us in the midst of whatever we face. And thus, we can express gratitude. We can “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Let me conclude with an example of how to cultivate these “eyes of gratitude” from an example that St. Paisios used, which I think he must have taken from St. Basil. He says remember the fly and the bumble bee. The fly can go into a garden with many beautiful flowers, and yet, if there is a pile a feces in the midst of the beautiful flowers, the fly will occupy itself with the feces. In contrast, the bumble bee can go into a garbage heap, with all kinds of rotting trash, and yet, if there is one rose or beautiful flower someone within that heap, the bee will fly to it and spend its time around what is beautiful.

The fly would be attracted to the waste of this world, while the bee would be giving thanks for the rose in the midst of the trash.

Let us cultivate our own eyes to see the roses of life that are all around us. Let us constantly be aware and give thanks for the blessings seen and unseen that surround us in our lives. And in this way, let us “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances” remembering that this is “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

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