If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or a bit tired during what can be the commercial lunacy of the holidays, gratefulness can put the jumper cables to your soul.
We need to swim against the flow of noise, overeating, and buying and giving stuff, to find gratefulness. But it’s worth the effort, really.
I love the explanation of Brother David Steindl Rast, a way cool monk (he hangs with the Dalai Lama) who travels the world talking about gratefulness.
He says it is the opportunity that life affords each of us to be grateful that counts. Brother David nailed it when he says that it is not the happiest people that are grateful. Too often people who are given everything are unhappy because the want more of what they’ve been given or something else. He says it is the grateful people that are truly happy.
Here’s a recent TED talk by Brother David talking about being grateful.
Gratefulness is a Choice
We can choose to be grateful even in the most difficult of circumstances. As Brother David points out, sometimes we must go through very trying experiences we didn’t’ ask for and wouldn’t wish on anyone. But those same experiences that we may curse can teach us some difficult but important lessons about living a good life: patience, determination, or compassion for ourselves or others, for example. And for this, we can give thanks.
For it to gain traction in our lives, being grateful must become a habit. When this happens, we live a grateful life. It shouldn’t be a thing we remember only when flowers grow in our lives, but something carries over into the seasons of our lives including when troublesome weeds sprout.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Struck with Thanks
We can be struck by gratefulness in the most unusual ways. As I wrote in my previous blog, “Travels with George: Depression Takes a Backseat,” in the midst of a depressing depression, I found myself drawn to a Catholic church on the poor side of Buffalo two years ago. I walked into this mystery where I didn’t know exactly why I was there, only that I was searching for something missing in my life. There I would find myself going to Mass with the poor. I felt at home. I felt poor not in any material way. I’ve been blessed to make a great living as a lawyer these past 30 years. But, I felt poor in spirit. Repeated drops into depression (some mild, some a bit worse) over these past 20 years had left me worn out. I always come out of it. Yet, it some way it had left me particularly depleted at the time I arrived on St. Luke’s doorsteps, hungry for meaning in my life in a way I thought only God could understand and heal.
Into my life dropped this 10-year old kid named George. Who could have predicted that? Fast forward two years and George is the son I never had. It didn’t start out that way. Far from it. In the beginning, he wouldn’t even talk to me as we traveled in my truck to dinner. He’d just look out the passenger window. The silence between us wasn’t fun. At times, he would punch or kick me to push me away. But, somehow I stayed with it. I stayed with George.
At this holiday season, I am grateful for a laundry list of things and people: my awesome wife and precious daughter, but also cherished friends and my brothers and sister. But George in a special way because he came into my life at a time of lostness. Our relationship has given me an additional sense of purpose. love him. And he loves me. And how could I not be grateful for that?
The other day I went to George’s simple house that sits next to St. Luke’s Church who owns it. There he lives with his brother, Peter, his sister, Gayle, his friend, Trevor, and his Godmother, Jeannie. They sang me “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” A chorus of cheer. Such a simple and beautiful treat.
It is the relationships, the opportunity we have every day, to be of heartfelt service to others in whatever place we find ourselves. We cannot find meaning in isolation. It is through others that we really discover the depths of who we really are. For what I bring to George’s life, he bring just as much or more to mine.
That is something to be deeply grateful for.
The great mystic Meister Eckhart wrote hundreds of years ago, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
And so, it is.
By Dan Lukasik
Listen to this radio interview with George, the founder of St. Luke’s, Amy Betros, and I on the NPR affiliate station, WBFO