Posted July 8, 2014
In a Thanksgiving week quiz, a teacher asked her fourth grade pupils to state at least one thing they were thankful to God for. One perspicacious lad professed that he was thankful that God put his nose in the middle of his face and his ears on both sides of his head. The flummoxed teacher asked why on earth he would be thankful for that. The youngster replied, “Because if my nose and ears weren’t in those places, my glasses would fall off my face!”
That child found one of countless unacknowledged gifts of God. And that teacher’s experiment would be a good spiritual exercise for any of us. To thank God, for instance, for the gift of water, you would find water-related “spin-off” gifts that you may have taken for granted, such as fishing or fish as food, soup, surfing, boating, bathing, shaving, showering, swimming, coffee-brewing, toilet-flushing, fire-extinguishing, car-washing or cruise ship vacationing.
Imagine a dish of sand with tiny particles of iron mixed with it. With clumsy fingers you might search for those iron particles with very little success. But if you were to sweep a magnet through the sand, it would draw to itself even the tiniest particles of iron. The unthankful heart, like a finger in the sand, discovers comparatively few of God’s blessings in life. But a truly thankful heart will sweep like a magnet through life’s circumstances and events—not just three times a day as Daniel did, even in the face of death (6:10), but frequently, in even the smallest events of life, delightful or hurtful.
The grateful heart will embrace God’s will with thanks, “no matter what happens” (1 Thess. 5:18), whether in the surprise of finding a parking space in a crowded parking lot, or in hardships like the inconvenience of a traffic jam, whether it be a miraculous healing or confinement in a bed of pain. As the magnet finds the iron, so will the thankful heart “give thanks to God the Father at all times and in everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
We are not asked to be thankful for everything, such as the death of a loved one, or the infidelity of your spouse, or the murder of your neighbor. We should be thankful in such negative situations, by harboring a faith-conviction that God’s providence will work in and through those situations ultimately for our spiritual advantage, as in St. Paul’s “unanswered” prayer for healing (2 Cor. 12:9). In every truly godly soul, the magnet of thankfulness will increasingly find countless blessings that inspire “gratitude to God in the heart” (Col. 3:16); these are, in heaven’s view, not specks of iron but nuggets of gold.
Of course, in all his dispensations God is at work for our good. “My Father is always at his work to this very day” (John 5:17), but in some activities he is more hidden in the “sand” of life. For instance, he works in our prosperity by testing our gratitude; in our mediocrity, he “calls us to a holy life” (2 Tim. 1:9) and supports our efforts to improve: “God, works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13); and when we attain holiness, he “surrounds us with his blessings and favors” (Ps. 5:12); in misfortune, he seeks our submission; in temptation, our steadfastness; in the shadow of death, he comforts us (Ps. 23:4), as he does in every hurtful circumstance: “The Father of compassion…comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Cor.1: 3-4).
Thus, in every event of life, the Lord is testing our reliance on him and waiting for our grateful acknowledgement of his powerful grace working quietly in our lives. Our filial trust in God finds its most sublime expression in one of the seven gifts of the Spirit, (called Piety (in the Septuagint version of Is. 11: 2). In a truly “pious” soul this gift is gilded with gratitude to our Heavenly Father; hidden blessings grow more obvious, and gratitude becomes truly passionate.
Every “pious” soul is a powerful magnet sweeping through life’s sands, “capturing” God’s presence and reaffirming it with the deepest attitude of gratitude—a wordless prayer that captivates the heart of God. Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned to praise and thank him, even prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet (Luke 17:15-16). By his humble gratitude, his experience of Jesus’ love was far more appreciated than it was among the other nine lepers. Most of us are like the other nine lepers; we do far more asking than thanking, and our pleas are more fervent than our thanks. The result? A disturbing “static” in our prayer life. God’s love for us continues, but our benefit from it is diminished.
An act of gratitude to God, like any act of love of God, is easy to make, whether in a crowd of people or alone in bed. It can be done silently while waiting for a stoplight, an elevator, a bus or for restaurant service. Abundant occasions can be found during TV commercials. Some find it easy to experience grateful love while gazing on a devotional picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or while viewing a colorful sunset, or while fondling a child or pet with loving gratitude, or even while luxuriating in a warm shower with loving thankfulness to a God who provides such amenities. A truly noble soul will find it easy to thank and praise God in suffering and adversities. At this very moment our Blessed Lord is waiting and yearning for a tiny burst of grateful love from you!
I have tried, in a kind of poetic way, to express my own faltering gratitude for life’s hidden gifts. With the following little rhyme. I invite you to join with me prayerfully in a search for hidden nuggets of God’s love in the sands of life.
Bounty from Heaven
Though we cannot touch them with our hand,
God’s gifts are there at our command.
And day by day his favor grows;
His gracious bounty overflows.
With grace and care that never ends,
Through lavish love of loving friends
The warmth and glow of Jesus’ light
Shines clear to make our pathway bright.
Lord, grant that I may always see
The gifts that you bestow on me
As graces from your bounty, Lord—
A blest yet undeserved award.
Accept my humble gratitude
For treasured friends and love renewed.
And yes, dear God, I too impart
A gift to You—my grateful heart!
John H. Hampsch, CMF