The Thanks Behind the Giving

One of the things my family always did around the Thanksgiving table—which annoyed me to no end—was to compel everyone to list something for which he or she was especially thankful. It never really worked the way my mother imagined it would because 1) it felt so artificial and forced and 2) it reduced the idea of gratitude to listmaking. Needless to say, I did not continue this awkward tradition with my own sons when I became a parent!
I am not saying we don’t need to practice being thankful, and I’m not saying that the process of thinking through a list of blessings isn’t a good thing. It’s great to enumerate our blessings, to acknowledge all the wonderful people God has sent us, to inwardly treasure all the things and places that make up our slice of reality. It’s even good to be grateful for whatever good fortune we have managed to accumate. But authentic thankfulness is so much more: it stems from a powerful comprehension of the gift of simply being alive. When we feel that insight and come to embrace it, we feel gratitude all the time, regardless of our circumstances. In this deepest state of gratitude, we recognize the purity of the experience of being, in and of itself. We are one with the awesome life and Spirit that make up the myster of life itself—and we bow our hearts in humble joy and gratitude.
It is difficult for most of us to access this level of consciousness on a daily basis. This is because we get so caught up in the ups and downs of our experiences and we make the mistake of thinking that our story—the things that happen to us—is the only thing that defines us. We forget sometimes that the world is basically unreliable: it ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, gives and takes. It is always in a state of flux. If we only feel gratitude when it serves our desires,(or when our mom puts us on the spot around the dinner table!) this is not true thankfulness. Since none of us is exempt from the twists and tragedies of life which could, at any time, take our possessions, situations and people we love so dearly away from us, we should seek to find gratitude even then. Ironically, it is sometimes those kinds of loss that can awaken us to a thankfulness that goes deeper than just being grateful when things go our way. Regardless of our addictions, struggles, shortcomings, health challenges, we are all truly blessed to be alive.
So, this Thanksgiving, let’s not wait for life to shake us up with sudden losses to come into a full experience of being genuinely thankful. Let’s take time, especially during this Advent when so many of us are running around like crazy people to just take a deep breath and make an effort to be fully present and living in the moment. If we discipline ourselves to do this for a set period of time each day we will quickly see how much easier it is to connect with true gratitude. We can also awaken ourselves with the intention of Jesus himself, who promises us that he comes to “…bring life and bring it to the full.” This surely is his way of teaching us to learn gratitude at all times, celebrating the divine life force that flows through us regardless of our circumstances or personal stories.

Wishing you a blessed and authentic experience of Thanksgiving,

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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