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Gratitude is Not Just for Good Times

by Amanda Thompson

For the joy of human love

Brother, sister, parent, child

Friends on earth

And friends above

For a gentle

Thoughts and mild

Lord of all to thee we raise

This our joyful hymn of praise

This is my “go-to” hymn when I think of gratitude and this particular stanza is poignant as we get ready to head out for the holidays. We get ready to celebrate the holidays with family and friends and give thanks for all the people in our lives and those who have passed from this life. Gratitude has always come easy to me. My heart overflows with love for people and it is easy for me to say thank you for the support my loved ones give me, the work of the student leaders, the grace that God gives me every day to juggle all that is on my plate.

But what about gratitude when things aren’t working out. Where is the gratitude when I see a grieving family who has lost a 4-month-old in the hospital. I am working as a Chaplain in the hospital this Fall and have witnessed a lot of death and have companioned families and friends in their grief. It can be hard to summon gratitude while watching one of my close friends suffer from brain cancer and die.

The challenge is to see beyond this life, beyond this struggle. The challenge is to know that we are loved and held particularly in times of distress, illness, and death. When we can release our fear of death and suffering. When we can realize that there is something more than this life, that is when we can experience gratitude. I can catch a glimpse from beyond the veil. I can see this life with new eyes and find comfort in Jesus’ resurrection stories.

As John Shea, a famous Catholic theologian/writer puts it: Life includes suffering. When you are spending all your energies to only rejoice in that part of life that does not include suffering, you will not enter into life because you will be dominated by fear and exclusion and not faith. 

So as we get ready for the holidays, let’s get ready for all the joys and sadness that the holidays may bring. Missing a recently passed loved one is part of the mix. Feeling the sorrow is part of that and then feeling gratitude for the life of that person is another part. I encourage you to be present to every moment, drinking in this life to the fullest with all the emotions that it brings. Reach out to family and friends. Find comfort and love community. Remember those who go without by volunteering in the soup kitchen, giving your time at a shelter, or donating food or clothes.

My heart is filled with gratitude for all of the students in CCM who remind me daily that loving to the fullest is the most important thing we can do in this lifetime. May you feel my love and gratitude for you over this holiday season.