Giving thanks

In her book, One Thousand Gifts,Ann Voskamp sets out on a quest for “the fullest life,” a life of daily gratitude to God. She keeps a journal in which she records memorable and mundane miracles she stumbles upon each day – the way a plate of freshly shredded cheese looks in the sunshine or a brilliant harvest moon hanging over a field.

The natural reaction to beauty, to all the good things in our lives, is gratitude. But as her practice of thanksgiving becomes habitual, Ann begins to wonder – what are all the other moments? The moments that are painful, the times when we feel more keenly that life is loss.

How do we reconcile these two very different experiences of God? Who really is God anyway? How can He truly be good? It seems so often that He takes away what is good—in sickness and death, in separation, poverty and suffering.

How can we possibly continue to give thanks when life hurts?

I love words and their meanings and relationships. You might know this, but the Greek word for thanksgiving, as Ann discovers, is eucharisteo.Whoa. That just added a whole other dimension to this.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus stops to “give thanks” before breaking bread with his disciples and the crowds. He gives eucharisteo.What can the Eucharist teach us about giving thanks to God?

Before the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered in the Mass, the priest prays a simple prayer while lifting up first the bread and then the wine: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you … the wine we offer you.”

We have received … we offer. This is the continual movement of gift—receiving and offering. God’s gifts are given to be given back. What have we that we have not received?

Jesus shows us, in the gift of himself to the Father in his whole life, in his death on the cross, and in his daily self-gift in the Eucharist, that love cannot withhold anything. Love does not rest, love does not keep anything. Love opens its hands in trust.

With only our human eyes, the cross seems an utter failure, a horrific loss. But with the eyes of faith, we see that God works the greatest good out of the greatest evil.

After Jesus “gives thanks” for the loaves and fishes, they are multiplied and thousands of people are fed. I, too, want to live this Eucharistic life – offering and surrendering myself to a good God who I trust provides all I need and desire.

To Ann’s dare to keep a daily record of thanksgivings, I would add a dare to make a daily offering of God’s good gifts back to Him. When we are accustomed to making little Eucharistic offerings each day, little sacrifices for love of Him, we are ready with open hands when He asks for the bigger, harder things.

And, the thing is, He always multiplies what we give, and He can never be outdone in generosity. God is always good and I am always loved,as Ann says.

I want to give thanks,the eucharistof my life – the wheat, the grapes. I want to give every moment so God can fill it with his presence.

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
–Romans 11:36

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