When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege It is to be alive-- to breathe, to think, to love.--Marcus Aurelius
I have this quote on a card in my study at home where I can see from my desk. It is one of my favorites.
Why is it that some people live their lives in gratitude and generosity, while others are seemingly ungrateful and stingy? I think the critical element is to be found in this quote from Aurelius.
Deuteronomy is about offering the best as a response of gratitude to God. The God of Israel brought his people out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He led them through the wilderness and remained faithful to his promises in spite of the people's disobedience and constant complaints. And now Israel is on the threshold of the land God promised to them. They stand between the long journey of many years and the destination they have meandered toward in the desert. God has remained faithful and in gratitude they must now offer the best of what they have, not only in thanksgiving, but because everything they have has also been given to them by the hand of the God who loves them.
A necessary ingredient for the grateful and generous life is the ability to remember. As they prepare to receive their inheritance, the people of Israel are to told to remember all that God has done for them. True gratitude leads to generosity. As we have received, so we give.
Grateful people know that life is not something they deserve. Every day is received, not as payment of a debt owed, but as a gift given for no other reason than the One who gives it wants to do so. Even each breath is taken, not as something only understood physiologically, but as a reminder that the One who gives each day is also present in each moment. Grateful people are astonished by the blessings they have received because they know that such joys are not deserved. Thus, persons who live their lives in gratitude focus on what they have been given, not on what has been denied.
Yes, grateful people are generous. They are generous because they know that since what they have received is not owed to them, then neither do they own what they have received As they have been so blessed, they in turn desire to bless others. They have known the joy of astonishment in receiving what they have not merited, and they want to pass such joy on to others.
Grateful people can be found among the rich, the middle class, and the poor. Their ungrateful counterparts also know no social and economic boundaries. I have known very wealthy people who, in their gratitude, give out of their substance, and I have witnessed those in poverty give out of what they have to live on tomorrow. I have also seen those who are quite rich refuse to be generous because, as they say, "That's what I pay my taxes for!" Their ungrateful but impoverished counterparts emulate them in focusing only on what others have supposedly denied them. In resentment over the "blessings" they have not received, it never occurs to them that, even in their want, they can still find ways to bless others.
Grateful people embrace the generous wastefulness of God's grace, and then pass that grace on to others, reveling in the joy of astonishment they have experienced.
Like the Israelites on the threshold of Canaan, we need to celebrate the bounty that the Lord our God has given to us, no matter what form that bounty may take.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)