“What’s wrong?” Jennifer asked as Rick walked in the house with a sour look on his face.
“Nothing… everything… I don’t want to bother you with something this petty. I’ll be okay in a few minutes.”
“Oh no you don’t! I want to help… please tell me what’s wrong. Clearly something is weighing on you.”
He looked at his wife for a few minutes and realized for the thousandth time all the many reasons he loved her. “OK, but I hope you won’t think I am crazy. I am beyond frustrated at the lack of gratitude from people these days. I do everything I can to help people and I don’t feel people appreciate it. Just a simple thank you would be wonderful, but they are few and far between. You would think in the middle of Advent with Christmas fast-approaching, folks would show a little gratitude for all I do for them. What is wrong with people?!?!”
Jennifer looked at her husband for a few moments before responding. “Remember how we always promised each other complete honesty? I have something to share with you that is not going to feel good. Does this gratitude problem belong to these people you describe… or to you?”
Rick couldn’t believe his ears. “Huh? Why would this be my problem? I am trying to help people and be selfless and I only ask for a little appreciation. Sure, a lot of people are great about expressing their gratitude, but I wonder why everybody doesn’t do it. What do you think I should do about this?”
“Rick, do you remember Father Bill’s homily a few weeks ago? The one where he talked about giving selflessly without an expectation of return during Advent and Christmas? By attaching our needs to our gifts, we make our giving all about us and we miss the point of being generous to others. What should be an act of love instead becomes a hollow gesture and an exercise in self-gratification. Honey, you are a good man with a huge heart. I see all that you do for others and so does everybody else. I just think you are a little off track and need to remember the pure joy of giving with no strings attached. Why don’t you make an appointment to see Father Bill and discuss this with him? Even better, I think he is doing Reconciliation tomorrow morning.”
Rick barely slept that night as he pondered his wife’s comments. He knew she was right and said what she did out of love and concern, but he wondered why he had gotten so far off track about the pure joy he once felt about giving to others. He never used to notice or care about a perceived lack of gratitude – what had changed?
The next day Rick made his way to St. Matthew’s for the sacrament of Reconciliation. As he hoped, Father Bill was there to greet him in the booth. “Rick, good morning! How are you?”
“Father, good morning. I will be brief as I know you are hearing confessions this morning and others are waiting.” Rick recounted the problem he had shared yesterday with his wife, leaving nothing out.
“Rick, I appreciate your candor. I have known you for years and have always thought of you as a generous and giving person. Sometimes, if we are not careful and vigilant, we can allow our giving to become all about us. There can be various causes, but I would suggest that you are struggling with pride and you are forgetting to perform these acts out of a sincere love for others and Christ’s greater glory. This is easy to remedy with prayer, careful discernment and Reconciliation so I am glad you are here. This happens to almost everyone I know.”
Rick did his penance and raced home to tell Jennifer how relieved he felt to be back on track and to thank her for her loving and wise counsel. She was upstairs, so he looked over the mail and found a Christmas card addressed to him from someone he didn’t know. Rick experienced a bundle of conflicting emotions as he read the card:
Rick, we don’t know each other personally, but I want to share my fondest Christmas wishes to you and your family. We work for the same company and I have long admired the good work you do for others. I am inspired by your good example, your willingness to help anyone who needs assistance and the way you weave your faith into your work life. I have not needed you for anything yet, but I somehow know I can depend on you to help me without any expectation of return. I hope you know how grateful I am that there are people like you in the world who serve Christ by helping others.
With sincere gratitude and best wishes for a Merry Christmas,
Rick was in shock as he handed the card to Jennifer when she entered the kitchen. She read the card and smiled as she said, “I think this guy is describing the Rick I know and love… the Rick who maybe just found himself again.”
“I don’t even know this man and have never done anything for him, yet he sends me a touching personal message of gratitude. I am blown away by this card. I was so wrong when I walked into the house yesterday. I know better than this, but I have allowed myself to fall into the trap of seeking some sort of validation through my service to others. Father Bill said I have allowed pride and perhaps a desire for self-gratification to overshadow the true meaning of loving and serving others in Christ’s name. Jenn, I am so grateful to you and Father Bill for helping me get back on track. This is a tough lesson and one I won’t soon forget. Advent is all about preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ and I needed this wake-up call!”
~ The End ~
Writer’s Note: Does this fictional story ever play out in real life? Do we ever attach expectations to the gifts and help we share with others? I encourage all of us to be mindful of this challenge as we continue our Advent preparation and get ready to receive Jesus on Christmas Day. Advent Blessings to you and your families!
Randy Hain is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. ”The Catholic Briefcase” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore.
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