A thankful attitude helps us appreciate our blessings Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Sometimes we appreciate more fully what we have when we see what others don’t have; yet, they are more thankful than us who have much more.

Matt Hasselbeck learned this the hard way. He was a Boston College sophomore who was going nowhere in football. Worse yet, he got in his coaches’ doghouse when he volunteered for the missions in Jamaica during spring break.

Gratitude amidst poverty

When Matt saw the poverty in the missions, he experienced cultural shock. At a prayer meeting, he heard someone enthusiastically thank God for his blessings. The person was George McVee, a leper who was so disfigured that Matt avoided him. He wondered what George had to be thankful for. He had no money, nose, feet, or hands; yet, he was thankful. His gratitude helped Matt to appreciate his cornucopia of blessings.

Matt returned to Boston College, but he was afflicted with hepatitis probably from the mission’s polluted drinking water. He lost valuable football weight.

Whenever he was tempted to feel sorry for himself, he recalled that George McVee and others in the missions had to deal with situations worse than his; yet, they were grateful.

Using God-given talents

He realized he hadn't used his health and talents to the fullest. He promised God that once he got better, he would use his God-given talents to help make the world a better place. His new attitude was a major factor in his success as a football player and as a more mature person.

He became backup quarterback to Green Bay Packers' Brett Favre. After he was traded to Seattle, Matt led the Seahawks to six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl appearance. He was selected to three Pro Bowls and awarded All-Pro honors.

Sharing our blessings

The Pilgrims did this on that first Thanksgiving when they shared their blessings with Indian friends.

H.W. Westermayer wrote that the Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts; nevertheless, they set aside a day of thanksgiving.

After a severe winter when over half of them died from scurvy, exposure to the elements, and other causes, the pilgrims set aside three days to thank God for their blessings through prayer and by sharing their blessings with Indian friends who helped them in their need.

Thankful persons enjoy life

Thankful persons seem to enjoy life more. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote, "If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul."

Rather than stewing over what we don’t have, gratitude can turn leftovers of food or life into a feast, a retirement center into a home, and strangers into friends.

A thankful attitude can help to make good marriages better, reduce depression, increase spiritual awareness, and give us optimism and energy. Dr. Nick Stinnett of the University of Nebraska did research which showed that families are stronger when members express appreciation to each other.

Share with those in need

Like the pilgrims we can thank God for our blessings by sharing with those in need. We can contribute to a food pantry or a charity. We can call or write a lonely person, visit a shut-in, or share our blessings with someone in need. We can invite someone who has no family to join us for our Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving seems to be one of Jesus' favorite words. People should recognize that we are Catholics because of our gratitude.

The word Eucharist, the center of Catholic Christian life, means thanksgiving. Learning to be thankful is a lifelong journey of grace and a sign of spiritual maturity as Matt Hasselbeck learned.

May this Thanksgiving Day and every day be another step in our journey of thanks-giving and thanks-living.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.