A Grateful Life

By Ana Mullan

(From the July - September 2019 issue of VOX)

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The secret of daily life is this: THERE ARE NO LEFTOVERS! There is nothing - no thing, no person, no experience, no thought, no joy or pain - that cannot be harvested and used for nourishment on our journey to God.
— Macrina Wiederkehr

I like cooking and I love cookbooks. I like the idea of having a nice meal with a well-set table and enjoying a relaxed evening with family, friends or by ourselves. If I have people coming for dinner, I like to look at some recipes that are not the usual everyday dishes. This requires some organisation, like doing some shopping for specific things that I might not have in the cupboard.

But there are days, when we are just the two of us, and for one reason or another, I don’t know what we are going to eat until pretty late in the afternoon. When that happens, I open the fridge and I look at what is in it. I start to take things out and see what I can create from that. Once it is made and we sit down to eat, I feel a deep sense of accomplishment that I have managed to put together something nice out of those bits and pieces.

As I reflect on this, I realise that life is a bit like that. There are days when everything goes according to plan and according to our timetable. As a result, we feel great; we feel in control and we might even feel thankful.

But there are other days when life is like opening the fridge and trying to find something to be able to cook with. Life just happens, bits and pieces here and there, going from one thing to the next. On those days, we might feel a bit deflated and not exactly thankful.

Our western society pushes us all the time to think that if we are always in control the outcome is will be good. As a society, we are not good at facing the unexpected. Voices tell us that if we want to live a better life, we need certain things. However, the main effect of those voices, like the ones in advertisements, is to give us a feeling of discontent. We end up wanting the next new thing to make us happy or fulfilled. We have become a society of entitlement, of “I deserve this.”

Those voices whispering in our ears are not exclusive to the 21st Century. There was a couple who were created out of love, to be in relationship with God and with one another, in total harmony. They were given all of creation to look after and manage, to enjoy, to work without feeling it was toil and to respect nature. However, a voice told them they were missing out on something more and they listened to it. You may know who that couple is: Adam and Eve. Read their story in Genesis 1-3.

The late Francis Schaeffer in his commentary on the book of Genesis, writes that the main reason why Adam and Eve paid attention to the voice was their lack of gratitude. They did not appreciate what they had been given and so they disobeyed.

The other day, I was talking to someone about the importance of gratitude when I thought of another person, whom I have been following for many years, whom I encountered for the first time at the age of four while looking at a sculpture of his crucifixion. He has walked with me for most of my life and I have learned never to assume that I fully know him. He continues to surprise me.

He is the perfect example of somebody for whom most events just happened to him. Like after a day of teaching and wanting to have a rest with his disciples, they go across the Sea of Galilee for a bit of a break and end up with 5,000 unexpected visitors! And they were hungry! What was on offer? Five small barley loaves and two fish. Not exactly a feast. But the author of the gospel says: “Jesus then took the loaves, GAVE THANKS, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

Jesus could have used other methods. He had the ability. Instead he chose to teach his disciples and us to be thankful. Thankfulness or gratitude has nothing to do with how well everything goes, how much things went our way or how much we have, but with the orientation of our hearts.

In Spanish and Italian, the word used for saying “thank you” is the same as the word used for the “grace” of God. So when I say “Gracias” or “Grazie”, I am saying I have received grace from others. Gratitude reminds us that as human beings we are utterly dependent on a generous God. We can produce and invent lots of things, but ultimately God is the source of everything. The more we practice gratitude, the more joyful we will become.

I invite you to open the fridge of your life and see what things big and small you could give thanks for. There will be hard things that you will find it difficult to give thanks for. There are situations that are difficult to comprehend, but we can still give thanks for the fact that God and His kingdom were and are always at hand.

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Ana Mullan is from Argentina but has lived in Ireland for 35 years, the last 18 in Dublin. She is an artist, a spiritual director, retreat facilitator and an enthusiastic grandmother.