The following is a transcript from a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 66: Thank God
Hello friends. Today’s episode is all about gratitude, and because this is a faith podcast, we’re speaking here specifically about gratitude to God. If you were born and raised Catholic, you likely grew up with a quite lot of prayers, practices, and even some fun colloquialisms all about thanking God. We thanked God before meals and before bed. We thanked God in church. Some of us thanked God for a parking space, or that it’s Friday or that we’re Irish (well, truthfully, I am thankful for that, still). But, as we grew in our faith, we might have begun to understand that gratitude to God is not as simple as those platitudes we threw around when we were young. Gratitude can be grittier, more challenging, and more complicated and layered, especially once we figure out that our prayers, as well meaning as they might be, are not always answered in the way we hope, or as we look around the world at so much suffering, the idea of #blessed around our personal gratitude can feel kind of inane and sort of ignorant, don’t you think? So, what do we do with all of that? What does it mean in the context of a grown-up faith to be grateful to God?
Do you remember a few years back when Oprah started recommending a gratitude journal, a practice of listing out five things she was grateful for each day? The idea was to begin to notice the small things we might take for granted, to change our lens from looking at the things we don’t have to the things we do. That’s so good, but for some reason that practice felt sort of scary to me, to be honest, and I don’t know if that’s rooted in the scarcity of my cradle Catholicism but when I tried this practice, it did take on a kind of spiritual OCD flavor where I felt like if I wrote something down that I was grateful for, then God would notice, and He would take it away to make me somehow holier. Okay, is that just me? Very possibly, but for sure there are some unhealthy ideas around gratitude that are unfortunately just in the water for many of us who were raised Catholic. One of these is comparison, and this tendency is so utterly human that Jesus even mentioned it in the Book of Luke, Chapter 18, so let’s listen to His words here:
“Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Well friend, have you ever exalted yourself but clothed it in gratitude? Have you said or thought something like, “Thank God that happened to them and not to me” or “Thank God I’m too smart or successful or too ‘fill-in-the-blank’ to have avoided that challenge or calamity or struggle.” Well, I think we probably have all done this, or I’ll be honest, I definitely have. But as we develop in our faith, the idea of comparison with our brothers and sisters around our thankfulness to God – well, this should just fall away, because there but for the grace of God go you and me, right, friends? Things happen every day, even devastating, challenging, truly scary things to people who are trying to do everything right all over the world, so in that terrifying frame, how we can be grateful to God without comparison to each other?
I believe the key is in finding a gratitude that is more open-handed, more globally aware and conscious, a gratitude that is centered in trust. There’s a quote by author Barbara Brown Taylor, and it’s about gratitude but it also describes such a radical shift in perspective on the nature of how God operates in our lives that when I heard her say it on a podcast, I literally stopped right where I was and wrote it down immediately. Here it is:
“Not to accept suffering as a normal, inevitable part of being alive seems like a big mistake and finding ways to cover it up seems like choosing anesthesia. There is a sense in which if I will trust that what comes to me is for me (now that’s the hugest faith statement I can make to you), but if I will trust that what comes to me in my life is for me and not against me… what I find is that it breaks my idols, that it breaks my isolation, that it challenges my sense of independence, it does all kinds of things for me that I would not willingly do, that are for me, that are for my good.”
Ah, I love her, don’t you? Well, this idea that what comes to me in my life is for me – even the hard stuff which is the only stuff that ever teaches or transforms us, let’s be honest – well, this is the very heart of trust and that, my friend, is healthy ground for gratitude to grow.
As Paul said in the letter to the Philippians,
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul’s idea of gratitude is centered in relationship with a God that he both knows and trusts. It’s not dependent on his circumstances, and here, Paul offers to us a healthy lens on gratitude to God that is not situational. It’s rooted in open-handed awareness that the arc of God’s action is always for our good. And honestly, we humans can’t always know what’s good for us anyway, can we? Sometimes things work out very differently than we expect, for better or for worse. The parable of the Farmer and the Horse describes this reality beautifully, I think. It goes like this:
A farmer and his son had a beloved horse who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away, and the neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild horses back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the horses and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The neighbors cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all of the boys. They did not take the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg. The neighbors shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
So, maybe it seems like I’m making the case against gratitude here, friends, but I promise you I’m not. It’s just that I’m slowly learning a more open-handed way of gratitude which at the end of the day feels more child-like somehow, as though I’m in right relationship, size-wise with God. As it turns out, God is very, very big and I am not. So, what do I thank God for, and how do I do it?
Like you, my expressions of gratitude fluctuate from day to day, but today as I opened the windows for the first time this spring, I was grateful for the shift to warmer weather. I’m grateful for the feeling of the sun on me as I sit outside and write these words to you. I’m grateful that God is present in the lives of my grown kids and that He is providing opportunities and making connections in their personal, spiritual, and vocational lives today that are best for them, though I may never know what many of those are. I’m grateful that today I had frozen peaches in my freezer to make a perfect smoothie and I’m grateful for the genius of an easy-peel clementine and that we have enough resources and that today my family are all healthy and can walk or run or cycle or do yoga, the things that are so life-giving to us. In fact, I find myself grateful today that yoga even exists and I’m grateful for everyone who’s ever taught me yoga, and I mentioned these teachers by name to God in my prayers this morning. I’m grateful I have time and opportunity to write and teach music to kids and for our little house that is currently clean and filled with shamrocks and expressions of spring, which is my favorite season. And I’m grateful for you, listening right now, and I tell God that, too, out loud and with a little nod to the sky.
Gratitude to God should feel like a warm, open pool of water, much less like gathering in the good in scarcity and much more like cracking something open. Gratitude centers us in the here and now, and it’s rooted in understanding that the nature of God is generous, as He pours out goodness and love on each one of His kids, everywhere, with every day and every breath, no matter our circumstances. And I guess I just want to say thank God for that.
Thanks so much for being with me today, friends. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks for sharing, rating, reviewing, and subscribing to this podcast as this helps more people to find us and I truly appreciate that, so thanks. If you’d like to support Raised Catholic financially by throwing a few bucks my way, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with lots of resources about how to engage with this topic more deeply for yourself, so do check all of that out. For now, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit amen.
God, help us to center our gratitude to you in trust. Help us to be like the one leper that returned to say thank you for his healing, and not like the nine who continued on their way, receiving the blessing but forgetting the Blesser. Thank you for your kindness and how you pour out love to us in every circumstance. Bless our dear ones with the knowledge that you are with them today and help them to encounter you as a friend. For all of this in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Well, thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
This week, we’re reflecting on gratitude as a part of a grown-up faith. If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Video: The Absolute Necessity of Saying Thank You, with Fr. Mike Schmitz and Ascension Presents
2. Book: One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp
3. Book: With Open Hands, by Henri Nouwen
4. Book: Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, by Kate Bowler
5. Song: Even When it Hurts (Praise Song), by Hillsong
6. Song: Open My Hands, by Sara Groves
7. Song: The Blessing, by Elevation Worship
8. Song: Thank U, by Alanis Morissette
9. Song: Simple Gifts, by Yo Yo Ma and Alison Krauss
10. Gratitude Meditation: God’s Loving-Kindness