Not too long ago, a young friend of mine was dying. Late one evening, as I prepared to leave his hospice room, I bent over to whisper, “I love you.” And through his tears, he replied, “I’m so lucky! I’m so lucky!” Those words struck me. Here he was—on what could have been the last day of his life—yet he was crying with joy. As I drove away that night, I was very confident of one thing: My friend was in good hands. The thankfulness in his heart was an overwhelming sign that he knew God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.
The astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” While I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, I think he was implying that we must never take the gift of apples for granted. In fact, we must never take anything for granted—from clean water to breathable air, from joints that bend to bones that don’t, from carefree living to caring friends. That’s why, in my mind, ingratitude is the most offensive of sins, indeed the origin and cause of all sins. Without gratitude, we take life, and all that makes life worth living, for granted.
If we have a thankful heart, we’ll see all of creation as a gift from God. We’ll see our personal life in a similar way, and the words “thank you” will often be on our lips—during prayer with God and in our conversations with others. Those two words, “thank you,” may in fact be the two most important words we ever speak.
To be thankful is to recognize the love of God in everything that is given to us.
Despite its challenges, life is not a problem to be solved; it is an amazing gift to be received and cherished. To be thankful is to recognize the love of God in everything that is given to us. The crashing of ocean waves, the color of the sky, the song of a bird, a word of kindness, the sound of children’s laughter, the sun on our face, the companionship of friends, the taste of sea air, the shape of clouds in summer, the scent of a flower—there are endless gifts in each individual life. If we are preoccupied with what is lost and what is broken and wrong, we lose the astonishing harvest of all these tiny gifts, one piled upon the other, that accumulate without our recognizing them. If we watch more carefully for the infinite blessings of a single day, this will not discount or demolish our sorrows. But it will help us remember how strong and rich we can be, even in the midst of suffering. A single word of thankfulness can transform a moment of sorrow into a moment of peace and joy.
Illustration by Tim McDonagh