By Sr Mel Dwyer
Our society is so fast to ask for things. In terms of material possessions, we want the best and latest model of everything. Even when it comes to prayer, we are so quick to turn to God and ask Him to fix things in our way and in our time. Often we miss the opportunity to simply be grateful. Showing gratitude is a pure response to the presence of God in my life, conscious that everything I am and have isn’t because of me. It’s because of God.
Aware that everything we have is a gift, we can never be grateful enough for all that we have received. Perhaps my focus on being grateful was born from spending seven years living in a rural village in Malawi, East Africa. During my time there I was constantly blown away by the simplicity and joy of the people. People who have nothing, yet seem as though they have everything. During Sunday Mass one can sit in the church surrounded by people with no shoes and torn t-shirts, yet the way they dance and sing is humbling. I could go and visit a family of students from our school and they would kill a chicken to celebrate. This might mean that they would have limited food for the rest of the week, but the people were grateful that the sisters had come to visit them. It didn’t matter if people had no electricity or hot water, they had life and for this they were grateful to God. The people of Africa taught me much about faith, about searching for the stars even in the darkest sky, and about trusting that with God, all will be well.
We don’t need to look far to see those suffering from poverty right on our own doorstep. As I tuck myself into a warm bed on a cold winter’s night, I call to mind that over 100,000 people every night have no roof over their head in our ‘lucky country’. Refugees who live in a state of uncertainty about their future, elderly people who have no one to visit them, those suffering from mental health conditions. How accurate Jesus was when He said, “The poor will always be with you.” (Matthew 26:11) What is striking is that those who suffer uncertainty and insecurity are often so grateful just to have a chance at a new beginning. We have much to learn from the simplicity and faith and hope of those on the margins of society.
When we think about our own lives, we are surrounded with so much, however we run the risk of being so complacent. We get caught up on trivial things and forget to be grateful for all that we have. The invitation of Pope Francis to count our blessings might seem like a simplistic task. Yet if we took the time to sit with a pen and paper and write down all the things we have to be grateful for, this list might surprise us.
The gift of life, the gift of faith, the gift of freedom to express my religion … the list is endless. Being grateful has a way of opening our hearts and minds to the goodness that surrounds us. In the midst of this I often question myself if I do enough to express gratitude to God for all His blessings. I sing many beautiful thanksgiving songs in Mass, but do I really live the words I sing? Is my life a song of gratitude for all God has blessed me with?
As well as needing to grow in gratitude for the blessings we receive, it’s far more difficult to be grateful for the challenges we face in life. It’s tough to give thanks for difficulties that we encounter or things that don’t go our way. Yet it is often the greatest challenges that lead to the greatest growth. How we come through moments of hardship shapes us into the people we are.
As we continue our journey of faith, let us strive to be grateful for the unconditional love of God, and for the moments that shape our character.
Let us pray for grateful hearts, that our lives might become songs of gratitude for all that God continues to do for us.
Sr Melissa Dwyer is a religious sister of the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Brisbane