When we see only through cynical or despairing eyes, we cannot see the wonder and potential of life as it has been given. Gratitude allows us to see our life's circumstances as the vehicle for our learning. But spring does not come without pain.
Although we have much to be grateful for, appreciation can turn to idolatry when we misdirect our value toward our relationships, our belongings or our income. All the good things become about us and how these things and situations satiate our neediness. In short, we become narcissistic.
Living with gratitude is totally different. It requires a deepening of the imagination so that we relate rightly to all in our lives. The key is to turn these things of our daily lives into sacraments, things of sacred significance.
But how can our lives become sacramental? Robert C. Roberts suggests three prerequisites in order to practice sacramental love:
Metaphysic of Love
1) We must practice a good theology rooted in a metaphysic of love. Paul the Apostle encourages us in Romans 12.2 to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. How we interpret our lives depends on our understanding of God. It is the lens through which we see either an ultimately hopeful view or one without meaning. Our theology also orients us to our place in the view we see. Without a theology of participation in community, an understanding of individual gifts and worth in service of the greater whole, our lives are too narrowly focused and self-serving. Practicing a true theology saves us from our distorted God image and from our egoic selves, and allows us to recognize the gift that our life is. Only then can we be grateful.
Means of Grace
2) We must recognize all gifts from God as a means of grace. To see our lives as gifts from God prompts true gratitude in two ways. First, our gratitude is directed toward the giver of gifts rather than the gift itself. This is a more true and grounded source of gratitude, a source in which we are contained in spite of disappointments, failures and dissolutions as well as in spite of successes or newness. Second, seeing our lives as a means of grace fuels an attitude of acceptance.
Esther de Waal, a Celtic Christian scholar, has found an attitude of acceptance in the ancient poems and prayers of the Irish and Welsh.
When life is seen as the gift of God, praise and thanksgiving are inevitable. When reverence and respect for the material world, for the earth itself, for the mundane activities of daily work, are a natural part of life, then there can never be any denigration of matter itself. The generosity of God in sharing the goodness of creation with us can elicit only one possible response - that of gratitude.
- The Celtic Way of Prayer
3) We need to cultivate a deep sense of love and God reliance. We often find ourselves depending on external things that aren't dependable. We place too much importance in that which can not only easily disappear, but also will never contain our questions of meaning, or our yearning for eternity. In truth, our lives are in God's hands and it is in recognizing and submitting to God that a sense of worshipfulness can grow within us. Worshipfulness fosters a deep sense of love and reflects our relationship to the infinite.