Saturday, November 30, 2013

Two Minute Penance

How To Cultivate A (Truly) Grateful Heart

Blessings in Disguise by Julie @ The Corner with a View
Amanda @ Worthy of Agape
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I'm not very good at being grateful.

I don't think I really realized this until Julie came up with this topic... but I can tell you that my spiritual director seems to have known this about me for a long time. How do I know that he knew this long before me?

My most common penance is "Spend two minutes thanking God for all the good things in your life."

Or something like that.

It's not as easy as it sounds.

It usually goes a little something like this...

Thank you God for the gift of your only son, for his sacrifice on the cross, for the gift of the Eucharist... thank you for my family who supports me, and good friends... thank you for providing me with a job that I enjoy, and a roof over my head, and food to fill my belly...

And then after about 30 seconds of that, I'm stuck with another 1 minute and 30 seconds of things like this...

Thank you God for air conditioning (recited when this takes place in the summer)...

Thank you God for air conditioning (recited when this takes place in the spring)...

Thank you God for air conditioning (recited when this takes place in the fall)...

Thank you God for my fan (recited when this takes place in the winter and the air conditioning is switched off in my building but it's still too darn hot)...

I think you get the idea?

The moral of the story is, I'm not very good at being grateful. So what on earth am I supposed to write about for this month's topic?!

I think I came up with a solution, and that solution is this: I'm not going to tell you how to cultivate a (truly) grateful heart, because I don't know the answer. I wish I did, but I can't lie to you.

What I am going to write about is this: a grateful heart is not something you are born with. It is not something that you discover one day, and then have the rest of your life. It is something that you must work to cultivate on a daily basis... and most days, I fail. But some days... some days I manage to be truly grateful... or more likely, God gives me some extra grace to be able to have a truly grateful heart, just for a moment. And I am truly grateful for these moments. One of these instances happened a few weeks ago.

I'm going through a rough time right now, and instead of focusing on all the good things happening in my life, I tend to dwell on all the things that are not right, and wonder if the things I had hoped for and thought were supposed to happen are ever going to happen. It's hard for the truly grateful heart to break through this fog.

This is where my mind and heart were as I was walking to my car from a friend's house late one night. It was one of the first nights where it was actually cold in DC, so much so that I put on my gloves for the first time this winter, keeping my hands warm as I carried a box of leftover pizza to my car. I was crossing the street when I heard a rustle, and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to see a homeless man, arranging his cardboard boxes and thin blanket to make his bed underneath a tree. He climbed in, snuggled down under his one blanket, and laid there quietly. I thought about stopping to see if he wanted my leftover pizza; but I decided to continue walking to my car as I was alone on a dark street late at night. Yet there was something that really struck me about this man. Though probably cold and hungry, he looked at peace wrapped up in his blanket and cardboard boxes. This man didn't have much, but he seemed to be truly grateful for the things he did have.

I got into my car, turned on the heat, and drove past the man sleeping under a tree. And then that grace from God hit me out of nowhere:

I am truly blessed.

I had spent that evening, and most of the past days, lost in my own world. I was blind to the suffering of others, because all I could think about was my own. But in that moment, God reminded me how blessed I am.

I am blessed because I have a warm car, and a home to drive home to. I am blessed to have leftover pizza, and gloves to warm my hands in the cold. And yes, I am even blessed in my sufferings, because while my suffering means that I may have lost something truly good, it also means that I am blessed to have experienced something good in the first place. My suffering is evidence of true vulnerability for perhaps the first time in my life, evidence of my faith in God and my faith in others and even a little bit of faith in myself. My suffering - though I wish with all my heart I didn't have to experience - is evidence of truly living.

In that brief moment, I had a truly grateful heart.

It didn't last longer than that night, at least that specific moment. But it's these fleeting moments of God shining a light on the blessings we have - the good and the bad - that help us to cultivate a truly grateful heart throughout our lives.

Maybe I won't figure it out tomorrow, or next week, or the next year, but as I just spent more than two minutes thinking about and writing this post, I do know that the next time I receive the "Spend two minutes thanking God for all the things!" penance from my priest, I won't have to "fill time" thanking God for my air conditioning. As I always should, I will spend that time thanking Him for all the good and the bad, the joy and the hurt, the laughter and the tears, because experiencing all of these things means that I am trying to truly experience love and life... and for that, I am truly grateful.


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