In his 51st letter from a hospital bed, my friend and mentor James Houston recalls a time when he was teaching at a conference of business leaders in Brazil when a question came from the audience: “to what do you attribute your long life?
Without much thought and with no reference to matters of nutrition or genes or an absence of unhealthy indulgence, I simple replied with one word, “gratitude!” I do not believe it was what was expected by my questioner…
… I spend very little of my life considering the past, my own past that is, and no time wishing I were somehow transported back. [My children] tease me that some of my best friends have been dead for millennia, and that is quite true…Origen, Augustine, Teresa, and long before them, the prophet Jeremiah caught my attention and affection as a young teen. But to reflect on and explore the past is not to live there, not to regret its losses, not to find the present and the future less compelling than some distant and now gone past. I think the practice of gratitude is what allows us to leave the past and its hurts, its wounds and even its joys as belonging to a past that is gone and to anticipate a future that has not yet unfolded. Yet, some of us find the practice of gratitude deeply troubling because we are in such emotional pain from past wounds. Perhaps, if I might encourage you, the pursuit of gratitude and the revealing of its obstacles, might lead you to places that need and can be healed by the Great Physician.
Our God has a remarkable quality that pertains to our need for gratitude; He makes all things new. Much of what we consider loss, once in His hands, becomes gain.
Houston wisely and graciously warns us that it is not always that way:
… Sunshine does not always follow rain such that we can easily give thanks with good reason. Today, as I write, I know of deep struggles in the lives of many for whom I care, both within and outside my own family. I find many in my place of residence are hampered in their practice of gratitude by the overwhelming sense of loss that being ‘old’ has inflicted. There is much that I can no longer do that was once much easier or even possible at all. Yet, the invitation still sounds to enter each day grateful for sleep, for breath itself, with a sense of what it is that is good, not what is missing, lost or even bad. There is something profoundly simple and yet essential in giving thanks for food before we eat. I hope, in some way, where you are in time and place, you can join me in simply giving thanks!
To read the entire letter see “Letters from a Hospital Bed #51“
Let this new year impress the practice of gratitude. Grace to you.