Honor Thanksgiving in your heart

By Fr. Tim Childers, MIC

“Why are you always pining for the things you do not have, instead of being thankful for the many things you do have?”

I remember the appearance of the question, or perhaps more accurately the idea, as if it were just last month. In truth, this moment in my life happened more than 20 years ago, when I had just turned 30. Having recently gone through a divorce, I had a constant appetite to fill the void in my life. I was never happy, always focused on the many things in my life that I did not have.

Turn to gratitude 
It was one day on the drive home from work that that question popped into my mind. Perhaps not the most revolutionary of ideas, but it certainly was to me at the time, and it gave me great pause.

It was true that, while there were certainly things I did not have in my life, I still had a great deal to be thankful for: two parents who were loving and supportive during this difficult time; many good friends who also cared for me; a job; and all my basic needs were taken care of — and then some. 

This was the moment where I decided to quite literally count my blessings and start being thankful for them. 

All of this took place years before my conversion to the Lord. While at the time I had thought that it was actually myself that came up with this grand new idea to live with an attitude of gratitude, in hindsight, I have no doubt that it was actually the Lord. Furthermore, because I gave my “yes” to this new perspective in life, it started to till the ground of my heart and mind in order to prepare me to give much bigger fiats to God: to become Catholic, to enter the Marians, and ultimately, to be ordained to the priesthood.

Half full/empty? 
At this point in my life, the only philosophies I was aware of were the ones espoused by philosophers like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. The words that were coming to mind at this point were, “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” But was this change in my point of view merely the classic “glass half full or half empty” optimism vs. pessimism debate?

I found the answer in G. K. Chesterton, the great Catholic writer. You could argue that a large part of Chesterton’s life was spent trying to get his listeners to look at the world around them in a new way, “from a certain point of view.” He once wrote that a paradox is the “truth standing on her head to get attention.” His writings are filled with paradoxes; one might say that he was infatuated with them.

One example that is offered pertaining to the importance of our point of view: Chesterton explains that “an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered, and an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” As a culture, we are obsessed with the adventures and dramas of other people, whether real or fictional. Yet we fail to see the story in which we ourselves are the protagonist.

We often only see the many inconveniences in our life, the things that our life lacks. Paradoxically, the existence and acknowledgement of this lack in our life is meant to propel us to fill the void with not just anything or something, but everything —more specifically, the Creator and Author of everything that is or ever will be. “But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33). 

Chesterton was obsessed with paradox because he was rightly obsessed with the paradox, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He spent his life trying to get his listeners to view the world “from a certain point of view,” because that is precisely what our Lord was trying to do. To not see as man does, but as God Our Father does. When Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from the Cross, Jesus replied, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23).

Being thankful
Being thankful in life — giving thanks more than once a year at Thanksgiving, but rather living each moment in the disposition of being thankful — is not just a psychologically healthier state of mind. Rather, it is a decision to view the world as one in which God the Father is actively and lovingly involved in every little detail. This decision to strive to “think,” not as a fallen creature, but as God does, ushers more grace into our lives in order to conform our hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Inconveniences will come, atrocities will come, but reflection upon the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ shows forth this transformative power of God when we too keep our gaze on Heaven and give thanks to God (see Lk 9:16).

Happy Thanksgiving!
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