The epistle reading for Advent III provides the source for today’s word: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
This brief passage articulates the most important lesson I have learned over the past 18 months. Indeed, it is the lesson we must all keep learning as annoyances, setbacks, and full-fledged tragedies threaten to derail us on whatever path we have chosen. It is a lesson I have learned from my dearest friend, who begins each day—and each meal—with a simple prayer: Thank you for everything we have and everything we don’t have.
Think about it: Everything we have includes much that we would prefer to do without; and everything we don’t have includes precisely those things we long for in the wee hours of the morning. The habit of gratitude–at least in this guise–transforms lives. It is the basis of an entire world view, stated most familiarly by Max Ehrmann in his 1927 “Desiderata”:
Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
The importance of accepting, using, and being thankful for all the circumstances of our lives emerges in this description of the Stoics‘ “slightly different form of gratitude”:
It was more inclusive and counterintuitive. It wasn’t just about being grateful for the good, but for all of life. “Convince yourself that everything is the gift of the gods,” was how Marcus Aurelius put it, “that things are good and always will be.” The first key word there is everything. The other key word is convince. Meaning: you have to tell yourself that it’s all good, even the so-called “bad stuff.”
I said earlier that my acceptance of this precept has occurred in the last year or so. I needn’t rehash the reasons here because we all have painful moments that offer us the choice between despair and gratitude. I have chosen the latter. It’s often a difficult discipline, but I do remember each day to be thankful for all I have and all I don’t have. Doing so enables me to embrace each day the sentiment with which I began this post–which hangs on my office wall. And this idea that “gratitude turns what we have into enough” segues perfectly to another favorite reminder: “Enough is a feast.”