Becoming Families of Thanksgiving
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?” Jesus asks his disciples in that memorable Gospel account (Lk 17:11-19). “Where are the other nine?” he continues, noting an alarming 1:10 ratio (!) of grateful to ungrateful former lepers, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Giving thanks. Gratitude. A grateful heart. A compliment. A word of praise. A thank-you note. All of these expressions are the very oxygen of our marriages and our relationships with our children, the basis for a flourishing Catholic home.
But if we’re honest, too often in our most important relationships, we act like the 9 ungrateful lepers—failing to say thanks when our loved ones respond to our needs and care for us.
Gratitude is “the virtue by which a person acknowledges, interiorly and exteriorly, gifts received and seeks to make at least some return for the gift conferred,” notes Catholic Culture.org. “Essentially gratitude consists of an interior disposition, a grateful heart, but when genuine it tries somehow to express itself in words and deeds.”
Thanksgiving is approaching, but every day is a good day to focus on gratitude in our relationships. “Couple studies,” summarizes one researcher, “have indicated that partners who expressed their thankfulness to each other often, could sustain their relationships with mutual trust, loyalty, and had long-lasting happy relationships.”
We all know this in our daily life in the home—how a simple word of gratitude can literally change the course of the day. Emotions come and go like the weather, and without daily expressions of gratitude, we can find ourselves unduly tugged by negativity or even despair. Our toxic culture, combined with our own brokenness, can lead us in the opposite direction from gratitude. We know the results: forgetfulness of God and lots of knots in our family relationships.
Several years ago, we were deeply moved by author and mother Ann Voskamp’s journey away from anger and fear—and into gratitude. When a friend of hers dared her to write a list of 1,000 blessings, she took her up on it. Her book One Thousand Gifts is a testament to how gratitude re-oriented her entire life.
Finishing our list of 1,000 blessings is a challenge we may never complete, but every one of us can take up the dare to develop a disposition of gratitude:
- We can pray a brief prayer of thanksgiving upon waking and tell the Lord the things we’re grateful for in our daily prayer time.
- We can say, in our hearts, “Thank you, Lord” throughout the day.
- We can work to “internalize” gratitude by memorizing one of the many Psalms of thanksgiving.
- We can make it a point to always thank our family members for the ways – big and small – that they tend to our needs.
The relationships in our families are intended to reflect the inner life of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One glimpse at the Holy Trinity reveals the constant flow of self-gift, love, and gratitude coursing between the three persons of God. This is our privilege as families, to mirror and reflect this kind of divine love in our relationships!
Whatever the ratio of grateful to ungrateful that is typical in our families today, as icons of the Holy Trinity, may we ever more faithfully reflect the image of God, returning to give him and our loved ones thanks!
And when we do, what a joy it will be to hear Jesus say, as to the one grateful leper, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”