Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances.
—1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
In Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, author and Episcopal priest John Claypool chronicles his journey through darkness during the heartbreaking battle with leukemia fought by Laura Lue, his 8-year-old daughter. The book is a collection of sermons, and in the third, preached a month after Laura Lue died, Claypool shares his grief over the death of his precious child. Here is a man who has spent his adult years teaching others about faith, who is now faced with such profound anguish, he wonders how he will survive.
The insight he gained from this experience may surprise: Claypool's path through the darkness of sorrow is on the "road of gratitude."
"Only when life is seen as a gift and received with the open hands of gratitude is it the joy God meant for it to be," Claypool writes in his sermon. "Life is gift."
People of faith oftentimes know from personal experience that gratitude comes easily when things are going well. If we are happy, we see the world in brilliant color, our outlook as fresh as the crisp air of morning. When our lives are "right," gratefulness to God pours from us like bird song.
But... and there is always a but...what about the times when our minds slow, our thoughts become torpid from despondence, our body aches, our heart hurts because things are not what we want them to be. Or what about when, like Claypool, we have lost someone we dearly love, or when we have nowhere to turn, or when life keeps pulling the rug from beneath our feet. How are we to be grateful when what we feel is anger, isolation or despair?
John Claypool came to a place of gratitude after the death of his young daughter. St. Francis believed that only in suffering and rejection could he feel perfect joy. 1 Thessalonians tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. The only sense that can come of these seemingly upside-down responses to pain is that there is something much, much deeper than what we see. Something there for us even in the darkness, even in the cold.
explorefaith offers here a variety of thoughts and suggestions around the idea of practicing gratitude—incorporating gratefulness so completely into our being that it becomes, not an overlay of happiness, but rather the bedrock upon which life is built. It seems that oftentimes the best way to accomplish change is to reinforce it over and over again, despite our skepticism or misgivings. We hope that these suggestions will assist with that reinforcement. Some of these offerings are intended to help open our eyes to God's constant presence and rejoice in that company. Some are reminders to embrace the "now" with all the gifts it has to offer. Some will be nudges to look past the immediate and remember the "more."
Depending on what you are experiencing in your life, this may or may not be easy. In fact, practicing gratitude may be a joy on some days and a challenge on others. It may help to remember that the goal here is not to become more happy... though that may in fact be a fringe benefit. The ultimate purpose is to reinforce at our very core that God's gift of love is endlessly abundant, and that is something for which we can be truly grateful.