Finding the hidden secret that unlocks the doorway to blessing
I’ve been contemplating gratitude lately. It must be the pumpkin spice and leaves turning color that prompt me to think about thankfulness. It reminds me that it’s not a ‘extra’ blessing sort of attitude that I need to cultivate once a year or during special events that warm my heart and make me utterly grateful but it’s more like a weapon to survive the onslaught of an in-grateful world. Entitlement, dis-satisfaction, greed, the ever present sense of needing more, wanting more, deserving more, the constant sense that I’m not enough or don’t have enough or am lacking something… it’s like my brain is constantly roving around for a snack that I just can’t find… salty? sweet? new car? Latest model? outfit? haircut? Nothing seems to do. Nothing seems to fill.
This is not an accident. It’s a design. I remember reading years ago a book called ‘Life: the movie’ about how the media has highjacked our lives by making us witnesses of it instead of participants in it. We watch our lives unfold instead of living them. And to keep the machine going advertisers are needing to capture our attention. The problem is that the old trick of selling us a single product doesn’t work well enough anymore. The new technique is not to sell us their product - it’s to make us feel dis-satisfied with what we already have. If you can create a Mick Jagger (‘I can’t get no satisfaction’) feeling in the lives of everyone you can sell them almost anything! It’s literally a commercial conspiracy. And if you consider that we all watch (whether we mean to or not) tens of thousands of images every week that are all telling us the same basic thing - you aren’t enough, don’t have enough and deserve more… well, you can do the math. It all adds up to a feeling that you just can’t name but you know all to well - dis-satisfaction. So, we go about our lives trying to scratch the itch that we really didn’t have in the first place but we feel is so vividly real - and thus begins the consummate consumer quest - the search for more.
How do we fight this insipid (can’t get enough) disease that threatens to consume us from the inside out (and the outside in if you think of the cost to the oceans and the vulnerable folks on our planet, oh and the animals stuck in a disgustingly greedy food industry and I could go on…)?
The answer is so simple it almost seems trite. It’s gratitude. Gratitude, can literally cultivate the opposite spirit of ‘lack’ that is perpetuated by our current culture with something that can truly satisfy our deepest selves. With ‘enough’ - actually, it can even do more than that - it can open the door to the ‘more than enough’ abundant life that we actually crave - on the deepest level.
St. Ignatius understood this in his generation when he was battling a similar spirit of greed and lust for more stuff and greater glory so he suggested that gratitude was the chief of all virtues. Gratitude, said the Saint, is how we enter the door of blessing. It turns out that thanksgiving is not just an awkward dinner with your family where you eat too much food and add brown sugar to everything! It’s a doorway to satisfaction in your everyday life.
First, it recognizes God as the creator and source of all life. That insight opens us up to realize that every single good thing in our lives is a gift. This perspective moves us from wanting more stuff to counting our blessings. And how many of those do most of us have? Wowzers. As you begin this process you start shifting your posture from ‘can’t get enough’ to ‘can’t fit anymore’. Already the weapon is fighting the hoards of greed battling for your mindset.
After that door is opened, you walk into an increasingly spacious expanse. You realize that the physical realm is but one among many. Think about that moment in school when you realized the stars you could see weren’t the end of the world but the beginning of a galaxy. It’s literally mind-blowing when you enter the gratitude door how big your life becomes. Far from the shallow feeling you get when you go from shop to shop trying to fill your version of ‘empty’, gratitude spills to overflow out of your soul and expands your world. Gratitude is honest. Far from the Hallmark kind of smile and be thankful even if you really aren’t deep inside, the intentional practice of gratitude and thankfulness includes all the horrible things of our lives. It’s an honest reflection that even those dark and deep things that threatened our peace of mind allowed us to experience the fullness of God’s presence and the deepest of human connection, and the depth of our own human capacity and strength. I’ve got friends who’ve survived cancer and talk about how grateful they are for the reminder that every single day they wake up thankful for the gift of life! They are truly living.
But maybe best of all, gratitude is the opposite of spectating - it’s active. It acknowledges both the giving and receiving of great gifts. And you can rest assured that this kind of spirit is very infectious. People who are grateful, those who live lives that are genuinely thankful, are the kind of people you want around. They make everyone’s life larger. I’m intensely grateful for the folks who have helped me understand the practice of intentional gratitude. Its unlocked the prison door to get me out of cynicism, greed, narcism, not-enoughism, and every other kind of sinking sand that threatens to pull me in on myself. Just that one thought of the doorway to blessing, makes me grateful. See how that works?