Growing in Gratitude
I am so grateful, (there it is!) to have been asked to reflect on this fifth chapter of The Friendship Project written by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet. In “Growing in Gratitude,” the headlined friends are St. Teresa of Avila and Bl. Anne of St. Bartholomew.
I am familiar with St. Teresa of Avila and am drawn to her spirituality. I have a dark side, a melancholic gray area, my “dark night of the soul” that St. Teresa shared with another saint and friend, St. John of the Cross. I have a copy of El Greco’s painting, “View of Toledo,” hanging in view of my bed, when I wake up and before I fall asleep at night. The moody colors, curves and shadows so aptly illustrate the struggle of darkness within a soul, a family, a community, a world. I have admired St. Teresa’s mysticism and authenticity. Because St. Teresa was the first woman proclaimed a doctor of the Church, I imagine that she was a woman ahead of her time, a force to be reckoned, and a friend I certainly would want to know. I looked up some information about her and found this tidbit by Catholic Online.
Sometimes, however, she couldn’t avoid complaining to her closest Friend about the hostility and gossip that surrounded her. When Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends” Teresa responded, “No wonder you have so few friends.” But since Christ has so few friends, she felt they should be good ones. And that’s why she decided to reform her Carmelite order.
In reading The Friendship Project, I ponder the meaning of friendship and the cliché — that is true — that good friends are few and far between. Paired with St. Teresa of Avila, Blessed Anne of Bartholomew is another soul with whom I am becoming acquainted.
Right away, I like this woman. Bl. Anne’s affinity with Bartholomew (a favorite apostle: “Against such there is no guile” is what Jesus said about him) strikes me as thoughtful and deeply spiritual. Bartholomew seemed reticent at first about Jesus, but when he saw Him as the Son of God, he was all in! I wasn’t familiar with Anne so I looked her up online. She had ruminated upon the ancient monk, St. Bernard of Clairvaux , another favorite of mine. I admire his view of silence and humility, especially when insulted or accused, although innocent. It points right to Jesus, who, though scorned and beaten, “He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
When I learned of Blessed Anne’s friendship with St. Teresa of Avila, in this chapter, “Growing in Gratitude,” I decided to align my friendships with theirs.
I could totally relate to the opening experience that author, Michele, shared about her young child. I get the sense that although she was complaining and not recognizing her true blessings, that there was something deeper happening.
I understand. My oldest son has autism. He is 27, still lives with us, his parents and now also his legal guardians. He struggles with depression; therefore, we do too. It is a heavy cross and heaviest for our son. I got the impression that Michele felt as if she were dragging her child through a genetic disorder. As mothers, we would gladly take our child’s place of suffering. It is sometimes difficult to be grateful in the midst of suffering, especially when it is your loved one who must endure it, and not you.
That being said, Michele’s major attitude adjustment, drawn out of the rest of the hospital visit, is to be admired.
Upon reading Michele and Emily’s book, The Friendship Project, particularly chapter 5, on gratitude, I’m encouraged to dig a little deeper within the treasure trove that is our faith.
Picture a chest full of gems and jewels. The real stuff always has value — it never rusts or tarnishes. Of course the real stuff, you can’t really get your hands on it. You can’t see, feel, hear, or taste it. But it’s more real than anything.
This chapter specifically talks about gratitude and what inhibits gratitude — what gets in the way of our being thankful and grateful.
Michele talks about these negative intangibles, also by the way are also real stuff — even through you can’t see these either, we know they exist. It lead me to think, “What if I could see, hear, smell, feel, or taste these things?” What if envy, materialism, unforgiving, and worry had form? Can you imagine what these would look like? Yuck — the opposite of a treasure trove.
The first obstacle is ingratitude. Michele referred to the ten lepers story from Luke 17. Only one returned to thank Jesus. How many times have I begged God for travelling mercies for my adult children and when they reach their destinations, I breathe a sigh of relief, but barely give God His due thanks.
Things get in the way of gratitude, like sin. The next obstacle discussed is envy. Describe it any way you want: covetousness, comparison, and even greed. Picture it though in your head, and it takes on the form of a putrid, deathly green slime. Who needs that? Nobody. It wasn’t hard to think of situations in relationships all around me where the green face of envy rears her ugly head. The irony is that most of the time, we don’t recognize our jealousy, so then how can we admit it? (Hmmmm, whenever I don’t know what to confess in the Sacrament of Penance …) When it comes to seeing envy expressed towards me, I must go back to forgiveness and practice that. Good thing I pray the ‘Our Father’ at least six times a day. It’s a constant struggle!
The answer is gratitude. Substitute envy with gratitude, Michele says in so many words. She quotes St. Teresa of Avila, “Never compare one person with another: comparisons are odious.” In other words — (these are my words), “They stink.” Pope Francis’ says when this occurs, “I must pray, Thank you Lord that you have given that to this person.”
Throughout the chapter, I was reminded of other aspects of gratitude in friendship. There have been a few times when I’ve lost touch with a friend — a really good friend, someone who knew me when I was a teenager. College, marriage, and moving away distanced me from my friends both in time and geography. With one friend in particular, I reached out through Facebook and we met for lunch and a long walk on the beach when I was in Florida. We hadn’t seen or talked in over twenty-five years! After that we kept in touch by phone and had a few deep conversations. All of a sudden, our contact stopped. I tried calling and texting, but then nothing. I later sent a Christmas card and she didn’t reply. I thought, “What happened? Was it something I said or did that dropped me out of her favor?” Later, I figured that both of us opening up about our deep problems and issues were too much for our present relationship. I tend to be an open book with the women I call friends. When I opened up about difficulties with raising a child with autism (breaking down in tears), it was too much for my friend to handle, given her own traumatic situation. Our friendship of the past was just that. It was in the past. There wasn’t enough substance or trust built over the years to sustain a level of, “I can call her anytime, or I can tell her anything; she always has my back.” I have since tried to take the initiative, and that is being reciprocated, and for that, I’m grateful. I don’t mind going the extra mile in building back that trust.
This happened with three of my friends. I write all this to point back to cultivating trust when it comes to close friendships. It’s a two-way street, and only through the Holy Spirit, can we build that three-fold cord (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12). With this realization, I am more grateful than ever for the few true friends I do have. I can count them on one hand.
Materialism is another obstacle that Michele covers; this prevents us from being aware of gratitude. Materialism is, of course, insatiable and enough is never enough. Maybe if we had less, we’d have more gratitude for what we do have.
Michele also mentioned forgiveness as support for gratitude and unforgiveness as an obstacle to gratitude. I try to ruminate on the lines of the Our Father. The line, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is the key to unlocking gratitude and setting it free. Seventy times seven, right?! This is a constant process, and really can’t be simplified. I believe we have to recognize each moment as an opportunity to forgive and allow God to pour out His love over us and those we forgive. In the process, we are forgiven as well.
Finally, worry is the hand-wringing obstacle prohibiting gratitude. My husband often quotes, “Martha, Martha, your mind is consumed with many things.” My medicine is Michele’s advice, to count my blessings as in Philippians 4: 6 — thinking on the things that are true, lovely, and good.
There’s nothing like cleaning up a room to the best music for fixing anxiety. When I am sick with worry about someone or a situation I can’t control, this is what I do to shed some light in the dark corners of my life. Most of the time, when I’ve dusted, vacuumed, thrown out the trash, and made my space a little prettier, a bit brighter, I’m thankful. I then realize I was looking outside myself to feel better when I needed to fix my own attitude. Funny how ‘attitude’ rhymes with gratitude. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that the practice of Spring Cleaning has Lenten roots.
I like Michele’s numbered list of things we can do to cultivate a sense of gratitude. There are two that resonate with me.
#2—Write thank-you notes.
This works in an inside-out way, for me. “I must write her a thank-you note,” becomes a point of deeper conversion for me, the writer. Taking the time to pen my thankfulness and find the pretty stationery, even the effort of procuring a stamp and walking to the mailbox and lifting the flag for the postal carrier, is similar to the parable of the sower. These small acts of busting up stones and plowing the ground of my heart’s garden sows gratitude. I’m actually a happier person, saying “thank you” to someone else.
#4 – Receive the Eucharist and attend Eucharistic Adoration with your friends.
I try to attend daily Mass on Wednesdays at 5 pm. It’s not always easy to break away from dinner plans, or late-afternoon fatigue. Most of the time, I’m driving by myself to the church — sleepy, hungry , and a little empty, emotionally speaking. But then I get there and I’m joined with a handful of others — faithful others whom I am glad to see and, in return, are glad to see me.
I’d say that’s gratitude.
All in all, this book has encouraged me to pay attention to my friendships. It is a way of self-examination. I think of the wisdom in Sirach 6: 16: A faithful friend is an elixir of life; and those who fear the Lord will find him (her).
To Ponder, Reflect and Discuss:
- What makes you grateful when you think of your best friends?
- How necessary do you think it is to have a friendship that is equally yoked when it comes to matters of faith? Can you bridge gaps in these matters?
- What did you realize about gratitude after reading this chapter?
See the video for this week’s chapter, plus download a printable journal and more at The Friendship Project Group Study page.
Next week, we’ll read Chapter 6, Living Loyalty, and Chapter 7, Giving Generosity. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit The Friendship Project Book Club page.
Copyright 2017 Susan Anderson