It’s easy to be grateful for blessings—the good stuff of life. Most of us are grateful for family and friends, for food and shelter, for talents and work, for opportunities and health, when these are present in our lives.
The challenge of Thanksgiving, and of gratitude as a year-round spiritual practice, is to be grateful for the hard times, the valleys, the shadows, the failures, and the difficulties. In The First Principle and Foundation of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola challenges us with these words:
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.
This is the challenge of our spiritual journey—to become our True Self in God. Can I be grateful for the hurts, failings, and difficulties I encounter because each has something to teach me? Can I detach enough from a present experience of misery to search and seek how God will use this hardship to shape, heal, teach, mold, and mature me, as God draws me more deeply into love?
In the Children’s Message at church last Sunday, the leader* (complete with donut-decorated leggings!) talked about donuts. Donuts have holes, she said, but at Thanksgiving, we want to be grateful for the donut, rather than complaining about what’s missing in the hole. One girl raised her hand and shared, “I know the reason why donuts have holes in the middle! It's because they cook better that way.” Aha! The hot oil can cook from the inside out as well as the outside in.
What a great image for our relationship with God! When we turn to God as we experience the holes in our lives, God can reach us more deeply from the inside out as well as from the outside in. The recent uncomfortable move from my past home in St. Louis to my new home in Frisco, Texas has been God’s invitation to me. I have left a life I loved to respond to God’s steady, unrelenting nudge into an uncertain future. I slid off the donut into the hole. Gratitude, even laced with loss, resistance and anxiety, becomes an act of faith that helps me move forward toward who God calls me to be. Today, we closed on our new house (pictured)—part of a beautiful new donut in the making!
In 1 Thessalonians 5, we are encouraged to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” No matter where we are in life, God can use what’s happening to make us more than we are right now. This Thanksgiving, you may be on the donut, full of good things, giving thanks from the outside in. Or you may be in the hole, needing God’s presence and love to enter the struggle and to touch you from the inside out. Either way, may you let gratitude deepen your life in God, trusting that She will use all of these experiences to bring you more closely to your True Self.
*With thanks to Emily Mackey Melton Harris for the great Children's Time at Legacy Presbyterian Church!
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