The question stared back at me from an email sent by a nurses’ professional group where I hold membership. I read it on a wet, dreary morning as I fretted about having to go to work. I wondered aloud when I would ever win the lottery.
Still feeling sorry that I wasn’t an instant millionaire and already fed up with the summer road construction that would plague my day, I dragged my whining self off to work. But first, I dropped my two youngest well-fed, bright, and healthy children at their safe, middle-class school.
I continued to my first nursing visit—to a refugee family, Catholics from the Middle East who are certainly not strangers to the persecution heaped upon Christians living in that part of the world.
“You’re Pakistani Catholics?” I asked in amazement.
“Yes,” came the reply. “Do you know about us?”
“I certainly do,” I answered without any attempt to hide my excitement.
For the next half hour, a family member explained the life of Christians in the Middle East. Here in the affluent west, we read the news feeds and watch the news clips. Then we shake our heads and think how terrible and unjust it all is. We become righteously indignant. We say prayers for the protection and deliverance of Middle-Eastern Christians. We may even say a prayer for their persecutors. But to sit with a family who has actually lived in that hell and be privy to their personal account of living in fearful uncertainty is something altogether different from a YouTube video.
The family recounted their difficulty in reaching the safety of Canada. Their refugee claim was rejected the first time and they nearly lost all hope.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I prayed and fasted,”came the humble reply from the father of the family. “We are strong Catholics and I knew that we had to pray. I prayed for three hours each day and I fasted each day.”
I was struck by the family’s uncompromising faith and resilience despite their long ordeal. In His mercy, God granted their fervent prayers. Although they still have many obstacles to overcome, they are here in safety, free to worship their religion, free to build a better life.
Listening to their story yanked me out of the pity party I was still enjoying and the realization of my ingratitude for the many blessings in my life hit me like a ton of bricks. I started thinking about the usual things we are grateful for: family, friends, meaningful work, health, a roof over my head, a full belly, and a bit of money in the bank. But often in life, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that material wealth and comfort will satisfy our longing. And they do, to a certain extent. I’m very grateful for not having to worry about how I’m going to feed my kids or pay the mortgage. However, if our gratitude begins and ends with externals, then we’ve missed something so grand and so beautiful that our souls will continue to search for that which truly satisfies and for He Who is the ultimate recipient of our gratitude.
So back to the original question: what am I grateful for? I’m grateful for the courageous witness of a refugee family who has every right to complain but instead shows us that faithful Christians persevere in prayer and fasting; they know that a just God will grant them what they need. I’m grateful that God in His abundant generosity grants me unnumbered chances to turn back to Him and offers me the Sacrament of Reconciliation where I can say “please forgive me” and He can answer “of course I forgive you.” I’m grateful that He consents to be hidden in a little Eucharistic Host but unlike our persecuted brethren, I don’t have to worry about my safety when I go to Mass and receive Him. Most of all, I am truly grateful that He is my Abba and I am His little daughter.
Now it’s your turn: what are you grateful for?