On being a person of thanks

Sunday’s Gospel reading was one of my favorites: the story of Jesus healing ten lepers.  All ten are utterly thrilled to be cured — as you would expect — but only one comes  back to say thanks.

At Mass, I took Matthew back to the Children’s Liturgy of the Word, where the kids heard an abbreviated version of the reading and then created their own Thank-You cards to Jesus.  I helped Matthew with the spelling, but the printing is his very own (well, except for that first “S.”)  Pardon me while I glow with pride at my four-year-old scribe.

So here’s a question: why is gratitude so important?  I have wondered this more than once.  Nearly every spiritual tradition I know emphasizes the giving of thanks — or counting blessings, or mindfulness, or whatever you want to call it.

Recently, my husband shared a story that relates to this very topic.   He teaches adults who are converting to Catholicism, and one of them asked a terrific question about the Bible.  “Why does God always tell people to praise him?” this person asked.  “So many Bible verses are about how we should give glory to God.  Does God really need that?  After all, if you’re ‘the man,’ you don’t need other people to tell you you’re ‘the man.'”

It’s a great question.  Frankly, I’ve wondered it myself.  And when this question came up in the RCIA class, Scott told me that he addressed it by sharing a story from our parenting lives.  He talked about how we, as parents, are always trying to remind Matthew to say “thank you” if we give him something.  Why?  Not because we need to hear the thanks, or because we’ll sulk if we don’t get recognition for handing our son a glass of milk.  We make Matthew say ‘thank you’ because we want him to grow up to be a person of thanks.  We want him to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

I love Scott’s answer, because “a person of thanks” just makes sense to me as a way to live.  Based on my own experiences,  when you give thanks, the thing you are thankful for becomes even more real, more vivid, more prominent.  It does not just float out of your line of vision and become forgotten.  You see it, grab it, hold onto it:  in a good way.  And really, why should we let the petty grudges, the annoyances, the disappointments claim so much of our mental space?  Let’s rent some of that room to the blessings instead.

Anyhow, I was glad to hear the Gospel reading again.  It was a welcome reminder to keep adding to my own mental list of blessings.  And if you want to know what Matthew is grateful for, here is the list he wrote Sunday morning, inside his card:

— Trains
— Cars
— Lights
— Police cars
— Mommy

If you think I melted inside, you’d be right.

Thank you, God, for my sweet Matthew.

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