By Fr. Jamie Forsythe
The world can be rough, life is not always easy and at times does not seem fair. We get sick, lose our jobs, relationships end, and those we love (both people and pets) die. Suffering is a part of our human experience: physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some type of magical pill that would take all this suffering and pain away? Well there is, it is called gratitude.
The root cause of all suffering is grief. Something that was important is now gone, or something that was wanted was not obtained. The focus is not on what is or what could be, but rather either what was or what should have been. We mourn our losses with either anger or sorrow, often turning the attention on ourselves. While grief is a natural response, left untreated it becomes debilitating. In the extreme case, life becomes a giant pity party of victimization: “Poor me,” “Why me,” “Life is nor fair,” and “How can I go on from here?”
The remedy for grief is gratitude. That is the magic pill that can cure all of life’s ills. It does not change the situation, nor does it remove us from the situation. What is does is change how we view the situation and how we respond. Gratitude allows us to choose rather than react. Scripture calls us to give thanks to God in all things, knowing that God works all things for our good. Gratitude frees us from navel gazing so that we can move to hope, looking toward the future rather than dwelling in the past. Gratitude can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow. It is hard to let go of feelings of loss and hurt. Sometimes it has to be taken with a spoonful of forgiveness, and must always be taken with a full glass of faith.
Just to be very clear, God neither causes nor inflicts suffering; life does that on its own. Our faith in whatever God we believe in is that the Divine will give us strength to overcome the suffering. All suffering, even physical, can help us grow to become more fully alive. It has been said that we learn more from our failures than our successes. It is also true that we grow more through the trials of life than the victories. Gratitude is the grace that encourages us to get up and move forward. Gratitude frees us from the chains which make our spirit a prisoner of the past, enabling us to become pioneers of the future. Gratitude allows us to see all the events and people of our past as preparations for the life ahead of us. A caterpillar does not mourn the loss of its cocoon, and a seed must die if it is to become a plant.
Anderson Cooper did an interview with Stephen Colbert which is viewable on YouTube®. In it Colbert shares how he has processed the grief of the loss of his parents and the struggles of his career through the process of gratitude and hope. If you are struggling with depression and the loss of hope, with sadness and the pain life can bring, I encourage you to watch the video. Train yourself to be a champion of gratitude. Look for things for which to be grateful. Counter every thought of loss with an affirmation of gratitude.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, may you recognize more blessings than curses. May your heart be filled with thankfulness for all that you are. And if your spirit is troubled, take a pill of gratitude and call me in the morning.
Fr. Jamie is the pastor of Holy Angels National Catholic Church in Wilton Manors, FL. Holy Angels is an open and affirming community celebrating God’s love and forgiveness through the Catholic form of worship. All are welcome to celebrate with us regardless of any of the things society uses to differentiate us.