“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14, NIV)
Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was the Spanish priest who founded the Society of Jesus, known later as the Jesuits. He wrote once in a letter that ingratitude is “…the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.”.
I’ve been thinking about this recently, especially during these last stressful months in our country, what with the virus and its devastating effects, and the increasingly hateful public speech arising from an intense clash of values in our nation and around the world. It’s easy to see, discuss and complain about what’s wrong with the world (or our politicians, or the Church, or our lives…), but perhaps it’s time to renew a discipline of gratitude, for that is what it is – a habit, freely chosen, enabled by grace, and strengthened by regular practice.
“What”, you might ask, “is there to be thankful for in the middle of this illness (loss, frustration, etc)?” Look. Observe. Make note of all that is around you that is good, and true, and beautiful despite the ugliness and the brokenness. Choose to see those things, acknowledging that they are pure gift. For there is no reason why nature should be so lovely in its beautiful complexity; no reason why people should choose to be generous, or randomly kind and thoughtful; or even that we would be imperfectly loved by family or friends except that these things are gifts. We do not merit love, or forgiveness, or beauty or generosity; these are gifts.
We can of course bewail and rehearse our suffering: “I don’t deserve this!” Such laments are as old as the Psalms, for injustice is as old as mankind’s beginnings. But it’s also true that we can train our minds, not to ignore these problems, but to see them in perspective, in context. For things could always be worse; that is also true.
Research has clearly shown, in many studies, that people who regularly express gratitude – despite the actual circumstances of their lives – were healthier, happier, and lived longer than their complaining counterparts. We hear what we say in our minds; it becomes the atmosphere we inhabit. We have a choice whether to marinate in our miseries, or to choose something else. We can acknowledge the issue and look for what we can do (instead of what we can’t do – remember the Serenity Prayer!), all the while looking upward and outward with eyes open to see and be grateful for the gifts all around us.