For those who have read my blog over the years, you may have noticed that I find themes or words that become the focus. These are not consciously crafted, but patterns that evolve. Sometimes it is a word or theme that permeates a liturgical season like Lent or Advent. I am finding that the start of 2014 is developing a theme for the year and it is Gratitude.
In this post-Christmas season of thank-you notes it is easy to contemplate gratitude. We all have those gifts that we absolutely love and for which we cannot say "thank you" enough. Then there are those that we look at and say, "Well, that is interesting." And while we are tempted to roll our eyes and grumble about having to deal with more useless stuff, it is always good to remember that it is rare that a gift is given for any reason other than to bring you joy. Sometimes it misses the mark, but the intent was there so our thanks may be for the intention rather than for the gift itself and that is ok.
The initial way to think about gratitude is to just count our blessings. It is rather passive. "Thank you, God, for my family, my health, my job, my daily bread, etc." But I am finding that 2014 is making me look at gratitude from a more active perspective. I have been blessed and I do need to be cognizant of all the gifts I have been given from God. Yet I can not just sit idly and count my treasure. I must humbly admit that I am unworthy of any of it. God has blessed me in spite of my sinfulness. My gratitude for all these wonderfully happy blessings must be overshadowed by my gratitude for God's incredible mercy. I do not deserve these gifts yet they are given anyway.
Therefore, my gratitude needs to progress from a childlike litany of "Thank you God for..." to a gratitude that seeks to imitate God's mercy. Thank you, God, for my family. Help me to do what I can to support and strengthen other families. I know some family problems may be due to poor choices and mistakes. They brought these problems upon themselves. That should never stop me from offering love, mercy, and support instead of judgment and condemnation.
Thank you, God, for my daily bread. I do not support the way many government or private programs address the problems of poverty and hunger. But that cannot allow me to tolerate a single person going hungry or wanting for clothing or shelter no matter the reason for his suffering. Maybe he screwed up. Maybe he didn't. He may be hungry because of poor choices. He may be hungry because of bad luck. It doesn't matter. He is a human person with intrinsic dignity and must be fed. In respect for that dignity, I will feed him, but I will also enable him to feed himself in the future.
Now here is the really hard one for me: I will not shut anyone out of my life because I think their offenses, opinions, or ideology make them unworthy. Shunning them is withholding love. Loving them does not mean I will condone and support everything they do. They may choose to avoid me because I do not give my approval to their actions. But I will not be the one to shut the door.
It is easy to see myself as the Brother of the Prodigal Son and resent the mercy offered to others. My goal is 2014 is to remember how often I have actually been the Prodigal Son and received mercy and express my gratitude for that mercy by offering it to others.