A bitter heart is corrosive. It eats away at our spirit, and seeps into all facets of our life. It limits our ability to appreciate and enjoy life. A bitter heart turns us in on ourselves in morbid self-preoccupation. It leads to continual comparisons with others, and it exaggerates slights. A bitter heart won’t let go past hurts, and becomes an excuse for poor behavior. Such a heart prevents a person from moving forward in life. Energy is wasted rehearsing or complaining about past events. In bitterness, we hang on; with gratefulness, we let go.
A grateful heart has little room for bitterness. A grateful heart makes it easier for us to see the blessings in our lives. And it helps us be more compassionate and patient with others. The daily blessings are a cause for gratefulness. They may be hard to recognize or appreciate unless we have a habit of stopping to take stock. Whether we see these blessings as little miracles in our life or the work of angels, the heart expands with gratitude.
To talk about miracles and angels may seem naïve. But, it is truly naïve to believe we fully understand the mystery of life. The person who is sensitive to the workings of grace, and does not tromp through life, lives with greater reverence. Life’s journey is a pilgrimage over holy ground. We need angels to lead the way and clear our path. They come disguised as the man who opens the door for us at the grocery store, or the clerk who wishes us a good day, or the friend who checks in on us. Blessings, small and big, are everywhere.
All is Grace
It is not about having a lot or a little. It is acknowledging that it is all gift.
“Everything is grace,” wrote St. Therese of Lisieux. And she said this when she was told, in her dying days, that she could no longer receive Communion. “Without a doubt, it is a great grace to receive the sacraments; but when God doesn’t allow it, it is good just the same; everything is a grace.“
I believe most of us will readily admit we have been blessed. Deep down we realize something has been at work in our lives, and it is basically good. We do experience grace, the presence of God, but often implicitly. It is hidden in the unexpected kindness of a stranger, or in the mundane witness of a person conscientiously doing his or her job.
Experiences of awe, too, can soften the hard or troubled heart. During part of my seminary training I lived in Canada near Niagara Falls. No matter how I was feeling, or what was happening, to stand by the Falls was to be filled with awe. The experience brought perspective, and with perspective, gratitude.
The basic gift we have received is the unmerited, freely given love of God. No matter what else happens to us in life, and no matter what we think about ourselves, faith tells us we are loved, and, we are good. Those core truths can never be taken away from us, and they are the foundation when we need to re-construct our lives and begin again. Sr. Helen Prejean, who ministered among prisoners and wrote Dead Man Walking, continually affirmed: “We are worth more than the worst act we commit.”
Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice
To be grateful for the blessings in our lives is one thing; to be grateful for the gifts others have received is another. If I am happy because I am not like others, or have been spared what others have had to endure, my gratefulness may simply be based in selfishness. “O God. I thank you I am not like the rest of humanity,” prayed the Pharisee (Lk:18, 11).
To rejoice in the blessings of others, and to give thanks for them also, is a sign of a mature Christian. Can I truly rejoice with others in their good fortune, their gifts, their opportunities? Can I be happy for them, and be grateful with them? Song, celebration, and thanksgiving are always appropriate expressions for a Christian. We may be burdened, but we still sing. Our songs convey our trust and hope in God. ‘Twas grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home (Amazing Grace).
The Dominican, Meister Eckhart, wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”