When I think about someone who’s not very thankful, my mind conjures up pictures of a little kid, surrounded by all the toys he could ever want, throwing a fit; or a wealthy person, surrounded by all the comforts they could ever want, bemoaning how unfair life is. The trouble is, these pictures are more cartoonish than actually rooted in the reality of my day to day life. I’ve painted unthankfulness into a picture that looks nothing like me. How convenient! I’m neither a child throwing a fit nor a grumbling aristocrat…
However, I definitely don’t practice thankfulness all of the time. If I’m honest with myself, sometimes I grumble and throw fits, and sometimes I feel slighted by life. When life feels unfair, disappointing, or just plain dark, I’m rarely thankful. I become bitter or angry, and I tell myself my lack of thankfulness is justified because: “Look at my circumstances! How could I be grateful?”
I find myself looking more and more like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31). When the younger brother returns, we see his father greet him with nothing but love, grace, and celebration. However, the older brother is nothing but bitter. He can’t believe his wayward brother is getting all this celebration after living wildly and squandering the family’s good name. Meanwhile, he’s been nothing but faithful and diligent over the years and never gotten a party of this magnitude. He feels slighted, and thankfulness is far from him.
This is where I often find myself. I may seem faithful and upstanding, but when life starts to feel unfair and my good deeds are going unnoticed, I turn bitter and certainly am not thankful. It’s in this state that the father in the parable course corrects me. His response to the older brother melts my ungrateful heart.
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” – Luke 15:31-32
The answer to this older brother’s hardened heart was a gentle reminder of the presence of the father: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” I often assume the solution to my ungratefulness is a change of circumstances, but maybe it lies in the presence of the Father. He is always with me, and everything he has can be mine. He reminds me of what I’m really thankful for.
I’ll leave you with a passage from Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, which pairs well with the lesson from the father in the parable:
God does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.