With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, I have been pondering the virtue of gratitude, and how I can grow in this virtue. Today I would like to share an excerpt from a chapter on Gratitude that I wrote in The Friendship Project, the Catholic Woman’s Guide to Making and Keeping Fabulous Faith Filled Friends about this important virtue.
Gratitude is a thankful disposition of mind and heart. It is one of the most beautiful virtues we can acquire. Gratitude makes our soul glow and helps develop a generous spirit.
Pope Francis shared in an audience that gratitude “is a virtue that for believers is born from the same heart of their faith. … [It] is also the language of God, to whom above all we must express our gratitude.” When we are thankful to God for all He has given us, our gratitude spills into our relationships. It helps cement bonds of friendship and shows the interior nature of the giver.
The virtue of gratitude frees us from selfishness, isolation, and loneliness and helps us understand that we are made for each other and to live in community. When we are thankful for everything God has given us, we also receive consolation in times of difficulty, which helps us understand that God is with us, no matter the circumstances.
Alice Von Hildebrand writes, “Gratitude is the blessed oil on which friendship and marriage thrive.” I think the world often underestimates the virtue of gratitude. Personally, I know I can forget how far a little thank you can go in making another person feel appreciated and loved, especially to those we are closest with. Like love, sometimes it easier to be pleasant and grateful to the stranger holding the door open for us at the department store than to show gratitude to those with whom we spend a lot of time. We often take for granted all the acts of kindness that we experience in our lives.
It can be difficult to be grateful and have an attitude of gratitude when we find ourselves blocked by sin. One of the biggest obstacles to gratefulness is comparison. Our friend St. Teresa of Avila writes, “Never compare one person with another: comparisons are odious.” (that means repulsive) As women, we constantly look at what everyone else has and wonder why we don’t have that. We live in a world where everyone can flash their perfect new kitchens, cars, and families on filtered social media, and we begrudge what we don’t have. St. Teresa is spot on: comparison is revolting. Instead of rejoicing in what has been given to our friends, we end up jealous, unhappy with and ungrateful for the gifts we have been given. Envy is also a sin that can cause us to be ungrateful and can ruin friendships. Jealousy of what our friends have can poison our relationships. In this day and age, we can be especially prone to envy as we are constantly barraged with images of the perfect home, perfect children, and the “Pinterest-perfect life.”
The solution to envy is gratitude. We will benefit from appreciating the gifts and qualities of our friends and being happy for their successes instead of feeling jealous. Pope Francis has shared how he overcomes jealousy: “When I am jealous, I must say to the Lord: ‘Thank you, Lord, for you have given this to that person.’” By breathing that prayer when we feel jealousy creeping in, we can avoid feeling envious.
We should all strive to be grateful to God and allow our thankfulness to flow into our relationships. Pope Francis reminds us:
If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength! Saying “thank you” is such an easy thing, and yet so hard! How often do we say “thank you” to one another in our families? . . . How often do we say “thank you” to those who help us, those close to us, those at our side throughout life? All too often we take everything for granted!
May this season of gratefulness help us all understand and appreciate all He has given us!
Copyright 2018 Michele Faehnle
Excerpts from The Friendship Project are reprinted with the kind permission of Ave Maria Press.