Looking Ahead In Gratitude by Henri Nouwen
I can understand the statement by Henri J M Nouwen that “The baby’s smile is a gift to the mother who is grateful to see her baby so happy!” But I find it difficult to understand his gratitude in seeing his friend “happy in giving me so much.” I can understand Nouwen being happy to see his friend being happy to give to him. Yes, I can also understand Nouwen appreciating his friend’s generosity, but why his gratitude? Could this be that my understanding and definition of gratitude is limited and shallow?
The Christian’s understanding of God is a God-with-us—Emmanuel. God is incarnated in the Person, Jesus Christ, who is revealed to me in the Gospel. Jesus is a loving, merciful and caring Person and He assures me that “The Father and I are One” (John 10:30 TEV) and “whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.”(John 14:9 TEV) As a Christian I believe that Jesus Christ is God. But somehow, in my daily living, I have never truly seen and felt within my heart an image of God as being so happy to give me good things. I am not sure that I have expressed my thoughts accurately here. But, I am now trying to visualize Jesus Christ as being so happy to give me so many good things in my life and I am learning to be grateful for all things–“the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections”—that happen to me in my life.
How could I be grateful for my pain and suffering when I was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1999? I had two liver cancer surgeries–one in April 1999 and the second one in February 2000. In May 2000, soon after my second liver cancer operation, I had Radio-active Iodine injected into my liver to get rid of the remaining cancer cells and this landed me to stay for 42 days in the hospital. Again, in April 2013 and October 2014, I had further growth in my liver and had Radio Frequency Ablations (RFA) performed to my liver. All the details of each of my experiences were recorded soon after my discharge from the hospital in my website https://jameslau88.com/ under the subheading “My Testimonies”
I have learnt from the Internet then that practically every one who has liver cancer died within a year or two. I felt fear and impending doom. How could I stay calm and strong? I prayed and asked God for strength and hope to carry me through each of my sufferings. I claim Jesus’ promises that, “I will never turn away anyone who comes to Me” (John 6:37 TEV) and He has been faithful to His promises. It doesn’t matter whether the person coming to see Him is a Pharisee, a Samaritan, a Greek, a Roman Centurion, a friend, a rich man, a poor woman, a man with little faith, the leper, the lame, the sick, the blind, the dumb man, the demon possessed or even little children. Jesus walks His talk and keeps His promises as can be seen in the following examples in the Gospel:
Raises the daughter of Jairus, a Pharisee, from the dead. (Luke 8:41-42, 49-56)
The Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4:6-42)
Heals a Greek woman’s daughter with unclean spirit. (Mark 7:24-30)
The Roman Centurion with a sick servant at Capernaum. (Matthew 8:5-13)
Raises a friend, Lazarus, from the dead. (John 11:1-46)
Heals Peter’s mother-in-law at Peter’s home. (Luke 4:38-39)
The Nobleman, whose son was sick in Cana. (John 4:46-54)
Heals a poor woman with an issue of blood on His way to Jairus’ home. (Matthew 9:20-22)
Heals the demonic boy of a man with little faith (Mark 9:14-30)
Heals the leper in the town next to Peter’s home. (Mark 1:40-45)
Heals two blind men after He departed from Jairus’ home. (Matthew 9:27-31)
Heals a paralyzed man let down through the roof at Capernaum. (Luke 5:17-26)
Cast devil out of a dumb man (Matthew 9:32-34)
Heals a blind and dumb man possessed by devil. (Matthew 12:22-23)
Heals blind man at Bethsaida. (Mark 8:22-26)
Cleanses ten lepers in a village between Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:12-19)
Heals blind Bartimaeus and another outside Jericho. (Luke 18:35-43)
The little children coming to see Him (Matthew 19:13-15)
[If you want to read the above examples, go to www.biblegateway.com and select the Bible translation you want and the Gospel and chapters and verses]
He has comforted and guided me through my painful experiences. I was able to have the calm, the rest, the comfort and the strength to go through them with His help. Since, God has strengthened me and has been merciful and gracious to me, what does He require of me? Does He demand anything from me? Have I got to do good works in return? In appreciation, mustn’t I return something?
I appreciate His grace and mercy and I am thankful. But, I find it difficult to see God as demanding something from mesubsequentlybecause He has given to me so much. I would prefer to see God as being in His nature to be loving and generous. He wants me to see His goodness, His mercy and His kindness as gifts to be grateful for. He gives His gifts with joy like all normal parents would give their children all the gifts they can give with joy. He wants me to receive these unconditional gifts gratefully as they are freely given with no strings attached—no “obligation,” no “demand,” no “beholden,”andno “compulsion” for me to do something. God wants me to see that “There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein all that I am and all I have is pure gift calling for gratitude.” This call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of my life can be claimed as the way of the cross and that the cross can lead me to see life anew and to a new life. The crossinvites me to see grace where there is pain; to see resurrection where there is death. To see my suffering as God’s mega phone calling me to a quantum leap in my faith and to develop a greater trust in Him. Through this faith and trust I can find strength and rest in Him. He will then transform me gradually to His likeness, so that I can become:
a little more forgiving —-less revengeful or punishing
a little more compassionate —-less malice
a little more kind —-less hardening of heart
a little more gentle —-less temper, less anger
a little more tolerant —-less impatience
a little more humble —-less proud, less arrogant
a little more giving —-less grabbing or grasping
a little more generous —-less envy, less grudges
a little more civil —-less rude or less answering back
Gratitude is more than thank you and appreciation. Gratitude requires work and effort. It is a discipline.
Henri Nouwen said:
“In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realise that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.
“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticised, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.
“There is always the choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection: “You are with Me always, and all I have is yours.” Indeed, I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past, and thereby wrap myself up in my resentment. But I don’t have to do this. There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and all I have is pure gift calling for gratitude.
“The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace. There is an Estonian proverb that says: “Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” Acts of gratitude make one grateful because, step by step, they reveal that all is grace.” (The return of the Prodigal Son,85)
“Of course, it is easy for me to push the bad memories under the rug of my consciousness and think only about the good things that please me. It seems to be the way to fulfilment. By doing so, however, I keep myself from discovering the joy beneath the sorrow, the meaning to be coaxed out of even painful memories. I miss finding the strength that becomes visible in my weakness, HIS grace God told Paul would be “sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
“Gratitude helps us in this dance (of life) only if we cultivate it. For gratitude is not a simple emotion or an obvious attitude. Living gratefully requires practice. It takes sustained effort to reclaim my whole past as the concrete way God has led me to this moment. For in doing so I must face not only today’s hurts, but the past’s experiences of rejection or abandonment or failure or fear. While Jesus told His followers that they were intimately related to Him as branches are to a vine, they still needed to be pruned to bear more fruit (see John 15:1-5). Pruning means cutting, reshaping, removing what diminishes vitality. When we look at a pruned vineyard, we can hardly believe it will bear fruit. But when harvest comes, we realise that the pruning allows the vines to concentrate their energy and produce more grapes.
“Grateful people learn to celebrate even amid life’s hard and harrowing memories because they know that pruning is no mere punishment, but preparation. When our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for the future can likewise never be full. But our submitting to God’s pruning work will not ultimately leave us sad but hopeful for what can happen in us and through us. Harvest time will bring its own blessings.
“I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, “Everything is grace.” As long as we remain resentful about things we wish had not happened, about relationships that we wish had turned out differently, mistakes we wish we had not made, part of our heart remains isolated, unable to bear fruit in the new life ahead of us. It is a way we hold part of ourselves apart from God.
“Instead, we can learn to see our remembered experiences of our past as an opportunity for ongoing conversion of the heart. We let what we remember remind us of whose we are—not our own, but God’s. If we are to be truly ready for a new life in the service of God, truly joyful at the prospect of God’s unfolding vocation for our lives, truly free to be sent wherever God guides, our entire past, gathered into the spaciousness of a converted heart, must become the source of energy that moves us onward.” (Turn My Mourning into Dancing, 18-20)
“It is so easy for me to put the bad memories under the rug of my life and to think only about the good things that please me. By doing so, however, I prevent myself from discovering the joy beneath my sorrow, the peace hidden in the midst of my conflicts, and the strength that becomes visible in the midst of my weakness.” (All is Grace, 40)
“A life of faith is a life of gratitude—it means a life in which I am willing to experience my complete dependence upon God and to praise and thank Him unceasingly for the gift of being alive. A truly eucharistic life means always saying thanks to God, always praising God, and continuing to be surprised by the abundance of God’s goodness and love. How can such an attitude not lead to a joyful life? It is the truly converted and blessed life in which God has become the center of all. There gratitude is joy and joy is gratitude and everything becomes a surprising sign of God’s presence.”(Show me the Way, 15)
“Joy and gratitude are the qualities of the heart by which we recognise those who are committed to a life of service in the path of Jesus Christ.. . .Wherever we see real service we also see joy, because in the midst of service a divine presence becomes visible and a gift is offered. Therefore, those who serve as followers of Jesus discover that they are receiving more than they are giving. Just as a mother does not need to be rewarded for the attention she pays to her child, because her child is her joy, so those who serve their neighbour will find their reward in the people whom they serve. The joy of those who follow their Lord on His self-emptying and humbling way shows that what they seek is not misery and pain but the God whose compassion they have felt in their own lives. Their eyes do not focus on poverty and misery, but on the face of the loving. (Compassion, 32)
If I can develop this attitude of gratitude and choose to act in gratitude, even in my hurt and suffering, then slowly I will learn to view that all-–“the good as well as the bad, the joy as well as the sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections”—is grace from God. I must look ahead with gratitude and to give thanks and be grateful to know that all of my life is grace from Him. God makes His GRACE known to me and to all who choose to experience His Love. God is Love and He clearly wants me and all others to know that He is Love.
Jesus gives His joy freely to me and wants me to share His joy with all others. I have experienced something in my suffering and adversity and I am not afraid but eager to share my experiences with anyone who asks me to. Thus, Jesus wants me, based on my own personal experiences, to share and to proclaim the Good News of His unconditional gifts of Love, Mercy, Grace and Generosity to all people. So, I am encouraged to, “proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:15 CJB) that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8 TEV) with joy and gratitude.