What Keeps Us Alive

3 October 2007. Wednesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 2, 1-8, Psalm 137, Luke 9, 57-62

A few days before Christmas, my grade school teacher asked us to draw a picture of something to be thankful for. Many of us drew matchboxes (these are little toy cars in the late 70s), food, a house, a family. But one of my classmates drew a hand.

Everyone tried to guess what the hand was all about or whose hand he drew. Of course, everyone thought it was God’s, or his parents. But no one could tell. He too do not want to tell us. When the bell rang for recess, our teacher came to him and asked, “whose hand did you draw?” He said, “yours!”

Our teacher was deeply touched. She recalled the hands she used to guide his pencil, or the hands that drew the lessons on the board, or the hands that led him around school. The boy was lame.

The point of the readings tell us how important gratitude is in discipleship. Nehemiah said about Cyrus, the Great granting him permission to rebuild the temple, “the king granted my requests, for the favoring hand of my God was upon me.” And Psalm 137 would remind us, “Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you.” Remembering God’s goodness is the way towards a greater commitment to the Lord, and would help us along the way of discipleship. GK Chesterton said that “gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” It is joy with awe at a God who gives us gifts we don’t deserve.

It is good to recall and give thanks for the many good things God has given us. We can practice gratitude for many basic goods, like being alive and kicking, being with the people you love, being with students and the younger generation who reminds you of hope, having food to eat, or a school to learn and meet new friends.

The practice of gratitude is a very valuable exercise especially at the most difficult periods in our lives. When I am in a crisis, when suddenly I just feel tired and lonely, or when something do not turn out right, I look at my scrapbook where I collect Christmas cards, letters, notes from my family, friends and significant people in my life. So instead of focusing on the negative things, I focused on what was good: the love of my family and friends, my accomplishments, the personal fulfillment of great days. My prayer would just be like that: thanking God for all the blessings and graces He has given. Thornton Wilder said, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

True, when we think we are at the brink of death, when we reach rock bottom, the way up is to count our blessings.

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