Driving home recently, I couldn’t help but notice that God seemed intent on slowing me down—behind a bus first, then a delivery truck; then a traffic light turned red just as I approached. Far from a waste of time, delays like this signal that God is trying to get my attention. I smile interiorly, grateful for the chance to ponder God’s presence in the brief moments of stillness the detainment affords. Every tree and flower, the blowing breeze, and every face I see contain God’s mysterious glory. I offer a simple prayer of thanks to this loving Father who provides everything I need.
As a child, I learned to say, “Thank you,” when receiving a gift, but I’ve only recently come to appreciate the joy and beauty of a grateful heart on my spiritual journey. Others already on this path modeled living in gratitude for me, and its appeal to my soul was powerful. After all, it’s easy to express gratitude when surrounded by God’s obvious goodness, but what about the times when God seems distant? Through prayer with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, I finally came to realize the disconnect between the lesson of my youth and what living in gratitude truly encompasses: the accompanying virtues of humility and trust, all working together to deepen my relationship with God.
Personal weaknesses, family struggles, accident or illness, even the world’s chaos—these don’t look much like gifts when my inner peace flies with the negative emotions that instantly surface from them. Surprisingly, these apparent crosses gradually reveal themselves as gifts, agents of interior transformation, if I but receive them with the eyes of gratitude. Even as part of me insists upon reacting with negativity or fear, a deeper part of me beckons to recall that God is beside me in this darkness. Like love, gratitude is very much a choice—a choice borne from a conscious awareness that God uses everything for His greater glory. Once unlocked by humility, gratitude becomes the key to receiving whatever God provides as exactly what I need, whether it makes sense to my mind or not. Moving forward from my initially negative reaction evokes trust in God’s steadfast love—and may take some time—but I’m learning to be patient rather than remain trapped in the painful consequences of ingratitude.
Embracing gratitude in the face of adversity requires a heart open to grace. But the surest signs that gratitude is God’s preferred path are the inner peace and deep joy that remain undeterred despite struggle. Consciously saying, “Thank you,” to God for my personal challenges and wounds, irritating traffic, and the storms of life remains counter-intuitive to my human nature, but with practice, the better choice of gratitude grows ever clearer. My transformation toward living in gratitude continues, but my journey is enriched with every “Thank you” expressed, for whatever God sends.