Our Gospel reading today was about the curing of ten people who had leprosy and the one who returned to thank Jesus (Luke 17:11-19). Sr. Anne Marie Lom asked (on Facebook), “Do you know people who have lived very difficult lives but seem to be filled with a sense of gratitude?”
Her question reminded me of a talk I gave during a women’s weekend retreat last January. I had been asked to speak on “Living in Gratitude” and to talk about my journey with Jim through his illness and death.
It may have seemed incongruent to speak of gratitude at that moment—not only had Jim died nine months earlier, but the very morning I was to speak I received word that our good friend Steve Dougherty had died.
Steve had been diagnosed with cancer in November and a few days after Christmas, he went into hospice. Steve was a very close friend to Jim and me for many years; he was with us throughout Jim’s illness and he was walking with me through my grief.
I started my retreat talk by sharing that I had received word of Steve’s death just a few hours earlier so I was probably going to be more emotional than if I were just talking about Jim. And then I shared the story of Jim’s illness and how we laughed every day and were grateful every day. I talked about our awareness of God’s abundant love for us and about how big our God is.
At the end of my talk, one woman said she imagined I must have had a wonderful life with very little hardship and that my easy life helped develop my deep sense of gratitude. “Not so much,” I said.
I then shared the story of a friend who grew up in an idyllic home where she was praised for everything she did. Her parents never denied her anything and they told her she was perfect in every way. When she left home at eighteen, she told me that she quickly realized that her parents had not told the rest of the world that she was perfect and deserving of everything she wanted; her adult life had been filled with unmet expectations and disappointment.
This friend helped me see that a lack of suffering is not a predictor of gratitude. Nor do I believe that suffering is a predictor of gratitude.
I think I am grateful because I know God’s fidelity and I can see how good God has been to me, how generous, loving, forgiving and healing. I know myself as blessed, and I am grateful.