Bitter Or Better

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving Day, it is so easy to fall into the platitude of ‘count your blessings’ or ‘there is a reason for everything’… Trite remarks which can mean everything and can mean nothing!

The real non-conquerable source of enduring gratitude is simple. It is what Psalm 100 says “The Lord is good, his steadfast love endures for ever and his faithfulness to all generations”.

Gratitude is intimately linked with God. Why? Because God is a Giver. THE Giver. He gives us everything and He enjoys doing it. It is all a question of seeing his gifts. The residents of an old people’s home were gathered around their humble Thanksgiving table and the Director asked each in turn to express one thing for which they were thankful. Thanks were expressed for a home in which to stay, families, health, etc. One little old lady in her turn said: “I thank the Lord for two perfectly good teeth, one in my upper jaw and one in my lower jaw that match so that I can chew my food.” “Be thankful always and … for everything”, Saint Paul says!

It is so true. Thanksgiving, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. “One evening I asked the members of a confirmation class (eighth grade) to give a one-sentence prayer of thanks for something good that happened in the previous week. Most gave typical responses: “Thanks that we’re here together,” “Thanks for the school outing,” etc. Then one boy said, “Thank you that I was sick on Friday, so I didn’t have to go to school.” “From the mouth of babes….”

Perhaps, it is all a question of perspective. Matthew Henry, a famous protestant Bible scholar was once confronted by thieves who robbed his purse. He wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” Hmm!

Real heartfelt gratitude helps us to avoid the pitfall of becoming miserable when things go wrong. If we are not thankful, it becomes too easy to sit around and ponder the sterile question: why me? Arthur Ashe, the legendary Wimbledon player was dying of AIDS. From world over, he received letters from his fans, one of which conveyed: “Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease”?

To this Arthur Ashe replied: “All over the world — 50 million children start playing tennis, 5 million learn to play tennis, half of them learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to semi final, 2 to the finals. When I was holding a trophy, I never asked God “Why me?””

Snoopy is right. He was getting dog food for his Thanksgiving Day dinner and he is aware that everyone else in the family is inside having turkey. He meditates and talks to himself: “How about that? Everyone is eating turkey today, but just because I’m a dog I get dog food.” He trots away and positions himself on top of his doghouse and concludes: “Of course, it could have been worse; I could have been born a turkey.” This is a very theological stance in front of life!

A group of small boys at catechism class listened intently as the teacher told them the parable of the prodigal son. After emphasizing the disagreeable attitude of the older brother, the teacher described Father’s rejoicing at the return of the prodigal son. “In the midst of the celebration, however,” said the teacher, “there was one who failed to share in the festive spirit! Now, does anyone know who it was?” Waving his hand frantically, one small boy said, “The fatted calf!” He was right, I suppose!

Seeing life in this way forces us to raise our eyes Up. Many ‘smart’ people out there fail to see this. A farmer brought a load of wheat to the grain barn in a nearby town. He stopped at a restaurant and sat down near a group of young fellows who were acting up, shouting at the cook and the waitress. When his meal was set before him, the old man bowed his head in prayer. One of the smart hecklers thought he would have some fun with the farmer. So he shouted in a voice that could be heard by everyone: ‘Hey, pop, does everyone do that where you come from?’ Calmly, the man turned toward the lad and in an equally loud voice replied, ‘No, son, the pigs don’t.”

Be thankful and you will not be discouraged easily. Be thankful and arrogance and smugness will wane away. Be thankful and you will become better not bitter! I wish you luck!


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.