Gratitude

When I was a chaplain in oncology, I met an ordinary but quite remarkable woman who had breast cancer. She had four daughters—two who were twins preparing to go to college and two younger girls. Everything that could go wrong did—a complicated kind of breast cancer, a chemotherapy infusion that infiltrated and damaged her heart, and eventually her death before her girls were grown. And yet it was she who taught me most about gratitude.

Despite the negative things I could see in her life, which she knew and acknowledged, it was the positive things she focused on. Every time I interacted with her, she talked about what she was grateful for and what she had written in her gratitude journal. This was no exercise in denial. She in fact bubbled with joy and delight as she talked.

About the same time, if anything had gone wrong in my patient and family visits, the problems were what I remembered as I drove home. Then I learned about the value of looking back over the day to see at what points I had experienced God’s presence. What were the moments for which I was most grateful?

What a change that practice made in my life. In reviewing my day, I saw positive moments that were luminous with God’s grace and presence, moments I would otherwise have forgotten and lost, especially since they were frequently quite small things. Instead of being weighed down by mistakes and failures, gratitude filled my heart, colored my days, and gave me perspective.

Queries:

What is your experience of gratitude?

What have you learned about the nature of God as you reflect on your days looking for the moments for which you are grateful?

Prayer:

Begin a prayerful review of your day, looking for God’s presence. In addition to looking for the moment you are most grateful for, you may also want to look for the moment you are least grateful for. Acknowledge these moments and hear how God is speaking through them. (See Dennis Linn, et al, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, Paulist Press, 1995.)

For further reflection:

“You drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock . . .” (See Psalm 40: 1-3).

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God . . .” (See Luke 17: 11-19).

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Anxiety

At a School of the Spirit contemplative retreat there were five Bible passages to choose from for the devotional reading. One of them was the passage in the gospel of Matthew about anxiety. Almost everyone in the group chose that passage. Anxiety is something we know about.

Writing these devotionals keeps me plunging into anxiety. What if I can’t think of anything to write? What if no one finds these useful? What if I don’t have time to write because I took on too many other good things to do? I imagine disaster surely looms and paralysis is not far away.

Once anxiety gets started, it seems to rush with the air I breathe into the cells of my body, making a home there and growing like activated yeast. Rather than trying to get rid of anxiety, it is finding a way to change the air that helps. As the song says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. Sing allelu, alleluia.”

Queries:

How do you experience anxiety?

What does your faith have to say to your anxiety?

What brings you back to a rooted and grounded place?

Prayer:

Sometimes when I am anxious I want a hug from a safe person “to put my skin back on.” Slow, deep breathing, or repeating a sacred word may help. Holding the anxiety in the Light, looking for what underlies it, can give a freeing perspective. Letting the anxiety go may happen if you find words that put you in the arms of God.

For further reflection:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry . . . .” (See Psalm 40: 1-3).

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life . . . ” (See Matthew 6: 25-34)