November moves us toward the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Most of us will try to attend to this holiday before we get too crazy about our Christmas preparations. In some ways, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the long holiday we call the Christmas season. And it does make sense to practice gratitude for what has already happened before we move into hope for what is to come.
I grew up in a very small town in the heartland, with most of my extended family within a 20-mile radius. My mother’s family was especially close-knit when it came to holidays. During most of my growing-up years, we were at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving and also for a late midday feast on Christmas day. Grandma was the eldest among her siblings, and her home was the family center, so it was always interesting to watch the crowd converge. Many years, there was at least one new baby in the family. And many years, there had also been a death. So when we gathered around the table, it was rarely the same group twice. I would sit there and silently observe who was gone and who was new. Besides death, there was sometimes divorce, which took people from our table. And besides newborns, there were also new boyfriends or girlfriends, or new wives or husbands.
Thus Thanksgiving became a day of assessment, when I took a thoughtful look at my family. Some faces looked wearier and heart worn; one or two of our elders might have shown clear signs of illness and decline. We always had a prayer before the meal, and that prayer always gave thanks to God for every person present and for our many blessings. I’m not sure it’s possible to be grateful until we’ve been truthful. My family showed up at the holiday table having fought many battles against illness or loneliness or family conflict or troubled circumstances. Our gratitude came at a price. These same people would help one another decorate the family graves in just a few more months, after the spring thaw and before the lighter, warmer days of summer. We gave thanks because we understood that every good thing matters a lot.
I don’t believe gratitude is simply a smile-through-everything-and-ignore-what-hurts mentality. I don’t believe gratitude looks only at what is going well. Rather, it bravely pauses and takes account of life—of everything going on—and chooses to say thank-you for the whole of it. Gratitude that issues from a Christian worldview recognizes that there is always a much bigger picture than the snapshot a person is working from on any given day. The Christian sees the redemption beyond whatever darkness we face right now. The Christian sees our capacity to endure great sorrow and trauma and grow in spite of it.
But growth and endurance don’t simply happen. God provides grace, but I make choices. I grow stronger and kinder—or I grow helpless and bitter. Sometimes I think the difference between those two outcomes relies on my willingness to give thanks every day. Somehow the gratitude then feeds the hope. And hope does not get along with bitterness; one of them has got to go.
So where is that perfect point of gratitude? Where is that balanced place at which we speak the truth without succumbing to sadness and anger? And at which we relinquish our fears and hurts and welcome the life we’ve been given?
Thank you Vinita, for a text touching deep the life of (every, I suppose) family. I became more conscientious of the choice (to be strong and kind) through a very sad conflict with our 20 yo daughter. You helped me stepping back a bit to picture the long line. And to start every time by being grateful, for our daughter, for our family, for our love.
I am so grateful I found this Ignatius Spirituality “channel”. I am not fluent in computer terminology. I am 87 and seeking the Lord more deeply and the spirituality to attain this. I have neuropathy and need a walker. Fortunately, I do not have pain or diabetes, just the imbalance and hoping not to fall, and living alone, take care of myself. My children are v. good to me and try to make my life workable. God has blessed me in this way. I try to watch Mass on t.v. ea. day and then say the rosary w. catholic t.v. after that. My other spiritual prayer is follow the “Magnificat” readings every day. This book is published by the Dominicans in Yonkers, N.Y. I need more of the spirituality the people are talking about. What is Dot Magis? I just signed up for E.Dot Magis. I liked reading the five points of the examination and write them and try to memorize them. I hope I did not write too much. Can you lead me? Thank You!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!! I am from Chile and I am suscribed to this wonderful Dot Magis. It seems that the Lord has come to me through the Jesuits and through my favourite language which is English. Thank you for this wise thoughts which help me day after day to be more grateful with the life God has given me.
I work at the cancer center here in Bakersfield. One day someone called to me as I entered the Center..Hey, Joanna…you’re late! I was thankful that someone who recognized my presence. I knew than that I was accepted in this community of saints.
Grateful for you Vinita! Your thoughts so often coincide with my own feelings and give me a new way to think of things with the Lord in mind. The closer I become to our Lord and over the past few years his Mother the more gratitude I find in my daily life. I seem to have given up waiting for the next “great thing” to happen and peacefully accept the blessings of each day. I miss DDF, so I am glad I can still find you hear. Best wishes as you work on your new book. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’ve learned first hand as a result of my 35 year old daughter’s strange complication following the birth of her little girl this August that sometimes the best presents come terribly wrapped. Hours after giving birth to dear Mila, who was early but healthy, my daughter went into liver failure and was rushed to ICU. Over the next few days her kidney failed too and then she quit swallowing and she was making no sense or wasn’t really awake. An infection was discovered as well and it took time to discover the culprit bacteria. Life support was provided for about 20 hours and then she came back to life. Prayers were answered and a miracle was before me. When I arrived back to my home a month later, a daily calendar I have needed to be turned to the current page in September. It’s message was just so much of what had become for me: “Some of the best gifts in life come badly wrapped. Don’t let the wrapping put you off.” Gratefully I had been a witness to a young woman fighting to stay alive to raise her children; a team of health professionals who wrestled with the right things to do and to calm and sooth; friends and unknown folks who shared their healing energy and prayers our way; folks who assisted with financial resources to help my daughter upon her return to home to regain her strength and spirit. And helpless, I stood open handed and hearted in front of God and asked for strength to endure whatever this outcome might be. Balance on the waves of life.
I am so grateful to read your post today;indeed I miss your Days of Deepening Friendship blog, so I look daily for any thoughts and grace filled moments
with you.Gratitude is the key to true connectness with Our Lord.In spite of life, and all of its hurts and challenges we always have the presence of the Holy Spirit helping us to make choices based in love. I am so grateful for all the loving people God has placed in my life journey! Amen!
Vinita,your message about gratitude is inspiring. Your memories are much like mine and we now find my mom’s family,including my siblings and children at less than 15. We were once a large fun gathering and now so small and dispersed. Rarely do we get together. So how does this relate to finding the perfect point of gratitude? As you said, it is in my spiritual freedom to choose my response.(paraphrase) I can be bitter, mad,upset or I can choose to live with joy and gratitude with those who are with me. It is my choices that shape and fill my soul. With Thanksgiving,really with any day,choose gratitude and pass it along. Even your smile can light up someone’s life.
So true, Kay. All we can choose, really, is our own response. And even a good try at a smile and some hope can make a huge difference. Blessings upon you!
Ditto Ann’s comment , Vinita. I miss your regular page of DDF.
Glad you’re visiting the Ignatian Spirituality site–lots more material here, and from a variety of great people! Good to hear from you.
“Though He slay me yet will I serve Him.”
“The L-rd giveth, the L-rd taketh away . . . . ” This is philosophy, Roman stoicism, Marcus Aurelius.
“Blessed be the name of the L-rd.”
This is religion, this is the necessary gratitude. Amen.
Vinita, i am an avid follower of your spiritual reflections and written articles on Spirituality. They are a source for my personal growth in holiness and provides meaningful and significant content to my homilies. God continue to bless , love and guide you. Fr Felicito C. Sison
Vinita, it was good to read your reflections again. I knew it was you before I looked at the author: you have your own voice. A blessed season of Thanksgiving to you! Ann
Thank you, Ann! Good to hear from you. Blessed Thanksgiving and Advent to you and your loved ones.