Monday, January 09, 2012

A Light Shining in the Darkness

Gratitude… It’s an odd thing really. What is the use of gratitude? Acknowledging someone’s goodness or charity does what? As far as I can tell it is only useful as encouragement to continue a certain type of behavior… But WHY is gratitude encouraging? Why don’t we say “To hell with your thanks, I’m doing what’s right and that’s all there is to it”? Why do we need someone to pat us on the head and tell us “good job”? In order to be honest I must say I have no idea – but I know it’s important. Not only important for the person receiving the gratitude, but more so for the one giving it. It is a bold thing to give someone credit: to say to them we understand that what they are doing is the right thing, or the just thing, or the kind thing. By proclaiming the goodness of someone else we are saying that we have a fundamental understanding of what “goodness” is, or what justice or kindness are. And we do, don’t we? We have always known; will always know. Knowing that humanity was made in the image of God, and therefore inherently good, we cannot help having this understanding. Gratitude has always played a large role in my life. Nearly every unselfish act I commit is done out of gratitude. Gratitude for my mother’s love, gratitude for my friend’s acceptance, gratitude for God’s mercy; I’m sure this is the case for most people. But I am at this moment faced with the burden of being grateful where I feel no gratitude is deserved. No good was done, no secret kindness was observed. How am I to be unselfish when I have no gratitude to warrant it? Some might say they are selfless for its own sake and some might even be telling the truth, but I have a suspicion that most do not know themselves as well as they think. It takes a great deal of heroic effort to be truly selfless. If it comes easily to us, chances are we are not really being selfless at all but are merely attempting to repay some ethereal debt – whether we know it or not.

Think very hard for a moment. Think about the most recent thing you have done which you consider to be “selfless”. Then ask yourself why you did it. Do not be content if “just because” is the first answer that pops into your head. Really try to figure it out. Was it because you hoped someone would do the same for you one day? Was it because you wanted those around you to look at you and see you as something really special? Was it because you wanted to be able to say to yourself “look at what a good boy I was”? If these or others like these were not the reasons for
your action then I applaud you (because you have done well) and I apologize for wasting your time. But if you are anything like me you might begin to see that all of these wonderful things you have done out of “selflessness” were a little more shady than you thought. Please don’t misunderstand; I do not mean to berate or discourage acts of kindness or charity, even if our reasons are somewhat different than what we believed. I’m not trying to go into those ridiculous, endless philosophical circles either. I am faced with a genuine problem and am trying to do “good” even though I am finding it very difficult to find a reason to do so. I say “reason” but what I really mean is “a reason that in some way will benefit myself”. And I’m not talking of a simple selfish reason like “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”; I’m speaking of those little, secret reasons for which we (or at least, I) will do something “selfless” – the reasons we don’t even know are there. I can think of only one example to follow in all of history that is above reproach, and that man died over two thousand years ago. God taught us how to do it – how to take our “self” out of the equation. And I always thought I knew how until this moment. I have no doubt he will teach me. This lifetime of anger and judgment may have been so difficult simply so that I would be faced with this and have to learn God’s lesson from it. God does weird stuff like that. There have been countless times throughout my life when I have wished God would simply possess my body and do the right thing for me. But God will not do that. I imagine he won’t do it for the same reason a teacher will not pick up a child’s homework and do it for him – the child must learn. Maybe I’m making too much of all this “gratitude” business. Is it not enough to simply be grateful? Yes, it is nice to be praised and, funny enough, it often feels good to praise others. Is it inherently wrong to be grateful because it feels good? Or to accept gratitude for the same reason? Maybe what I wrote at the beginning IS why God created gratitude – to encourage us. I still am not certain. What I am certain of is that is it good. Perhaps that should be enough for me and I should leave it at that.

I have been lucky enough to have had several times in my life, four in point of fact, when I was overwhelmed with joy. And the gratitude I felt for receiving that joy was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. If heaven were overflowing with one thing, I believe it would be gratitude. However much joy, or beauty, or love heaven contains, I feel that the gratitude of those experiencing it must match or even exceed those things combined. I have recently been blessed with a strange sense of gratitude I have experienced only once before, after the death of a very dear friend of mine. Something has ended; something great and beautiful - alive. And while sadness and loneliness naturally follow, one cannot help but be thankful. True, whatever happened has ended – but it happened. It existed. Even if just for a moment, it was there. I got to see it, hear it, be near it, and touch it. I am grateful for the time I was given because I could have easily been given none. I was allowed what everyone else who has ever existed has been denied… those moments were mine. An unlikely emotion, no? It shines out and emblazons the markers of truth and beauty on this long, hard road. It reminds us what was good, and helps guide our future toward the same. Humble breadcrumbs telling us what the good paths looked like, and what the new paths should contain. Be thankful friends; gratitude is a light shining in the darkness.