“A Life of Gratitude”
Meister Eckhart, in his contemplative and mystical work Cloud of Unknowing, wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
I am discovering these days that gratitude marks most of my prayers when, especially when I am not sure what else to say. It is not that I am thankful for all events in my life. Certainly not. I am not thankful about pain or suffering, especially when it involves those whom I love the most. I am not thankful for evil in this world, or the hateful speech I hear, or the unloving acts against others.
But I am grateful to share in this life with others as we confront a world that is often broken, suffering, and wanting for love.
The monk David Steindl-Rast presented a Ted-Talk and said that the one thing that unites all persons everywhere is that we all want to be happy. Some think that when you are happy you are grateful, but this monk challenges us to think again. It is not that gratitude comes from happiness, but that when we are grateful we are happy. I think he is right.
I have lived, for the most part, a happy life, but not because my moments are filled with pleasure. It is the moments when I can slow down enough to be grateful: grateful for good food, and the hands that have prepared it; grateful to see my sweet wife smile when I walk in the door in the evening; grateful for a random call from one of my sons wanting just to say hi; grateful for the arc of my life that has included so many interesting, diverse people who have taught me and teach me still. Grateful.
I am grateful too for those who listen to my own wandering thoughts behind pulpits, blogs and conference rooms. We all desire to be heard, and so I have been blessed beyond measure to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.
There is so much in life that is not fully appreciated until it is a memory. Relationships come quickly to mind. When Amy and I were newlyweds we lived on a very meager income, rented a garage apartment that smelled of mothballs, and did not have a television for the first six months of marriage. It seems so long ago and as I now recall that first year my heart is warmed with gratitude that Amy and I said “I do.” A few years later children forevermore changed our lives. I remember those early days when our boys were infants and the midnight feedings and diapering as well as long sleepless nights of colic. To be honest, it was just about impossible to notice and be grateful. Yet looking back I am grateful, even for those grueling days of early parenting. Through the years we would gripe about driving all over the state to visit relatives during the holidays and wonder if we should just stay home. Now many of those same relatives are dead and we wish we could have one more moment to share a sandwich.
To be grateful shapes every relationship on earth as well as in heaven.
Gratitude is prayer. Gratitude is life. Gratitude is really the only thing we can leave behind to share with others.