This week in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving—a beautiful holiday dedicated to family and giving thanks to God for the many blessings we have received over the past year. For many of us, it’s the one time every year that we pause to thank God and show our gratitude for Him and for other people.
Gratitude is the virtue that helps keep us grounded. It gives us perspective and reminds us that our lives and everything we possess are gifts from our Creator. Sadly, many don’t acknowledge gratitude enough in our culture.
It can be difficult at times to feel grateful. Between family crises and worldwide catastrophes, it’s hard to follow Saint Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
In ALL circumstances? Even when bad things happen? Is that what gratitude is all about?
Giving thanks in all circumstances reminds us that, despite the bad things that happen in life, God loves us infinitely and walks through these troubled times with us. We have to trust that He will help us make something good out of anything bad that happens.
We must train ourselves to see the hand of God at work in every moment of our lives, even in the suffering we endure. God loves us so much that He will never abandon us.
It takes courage to trust in God during the hard times. For example, it takes courage for a person with a chronic illness to be thankful to God in the midst of his suffering; it takes courage for a single mom in a difficult pregnancy to remember that she isn’t alone in raising her children; and it takes courage for a student to defend his pro-life beliefs in front of his classmates. Throughout all of these difficult circumstances, God would never leave us alone to fight the good fight by ourselves. He is always with us.
So how can we train ourselves to give thanks in all circumstances? Gratitude is a habit we must work on constantly. We don’t develop this virtue overnight! This Thanksgiving, put gratitude first.
Here are four easy ways you can sneak in a little gratitude between your turkey and pumpkin pie (and continue through the rest of the year as well!):
Everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him. Even our very lives are not our own.
As Saint John Paul II writes in Evangelium Vitae: “Man’s life comes from God; it is His gift, His image and imprint, a sharing in His breath of life.”
Not only did God give us the breath of life, but He also sent His only Son to suffer and die for us. Jesus’ death on the cross was a necessary sacrifice, payment for the debt of our sins, so that we could join our Heavenly Father in paradise. God gave us the gift of earthly life, eternal life, and everything in between.
As mere human beings, we have so much to be thankful for. Like the psalmist, we too should “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His mercy endures forever.”
This Thanksgiving, start your family’s day by thanking God. Take your family to Mass or spend a little time in Eucharistic adoration to help foster a spirit of gratitude among your family members.
(Cool Catholic history note: Although we celebrate the thanksgiving meal of the Pilgrims from 1621, the REAL first thanksgiving took place near St. Augustine, Florida. After arriving safely in the New World, Spanish settlers took a moment to give thanks to God with a Mass on September 8, 1565. Pretty cool, right?)
On Thanksgiving, many families have a tradition of going around the table and sharing blessings from the past year. What if this were a tradition your family did every day? As your family gathers around the table for dinner, have everyone say something that he is grateful for.
Throughout the year, keep a gratitude journal as a family and add at least one entry per week. Next Thanksgiving, go back and read some of the blessings from the past year. You’ll find that you have received many more blessings than you thought!
Don’t wait for Thanksgiving to thank the people who have helped you, even in the smallest ways. Reach out to family, friends, and neighbors who have been there for you in the past year.
Help foster gratitude in your children by having them make cards for important people in their lives. Teach your children to write thank-you notes not only when they receive gifts, but also when someone else does something nice for them, such as hosting them for dinner or a sleepover.
We all have countless blessings—blessings we should share with others. One way to share our gifts is to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy, which enable us to relate to other people and offer help where it is needed most. During the holidays, take some time to volunteer as a family. Help at a food pantry or collect clothes or diapers to donate to those in need. There is so much you can do!
Need more pro-life volunteering ideas? Check out this blog post.
What are you thankful for this year?
Mary Kizior is the Product Development and Marketing Manager for the Culture of Life Studies Program. Her work has appeared on LifeSiteNews.com, Christ Is Our Hope magazine, Celebrate Life Magazine, Defend Life magazine, the Peanut Butter and Grace blog, and other blogs.