“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” (St. Ignatius Loyola)
I woke up last Tuesday not feeling very grateful. I am not sure why, but I started my day in a “mood.” Maybe it was the stress of having too much on my plate as I pondered my numerous family, work, ministry and writing commitments. It could have been the large private school tuition bills which are due every month regardless of our financial situation. Maybe it was the anxiety around growing my business or the exorbitant cost of health insurance small business owners are forced to pay. It may have been the stress around giving my sons all that they need from me as a father in these critical years of their lives. It is quite possible I just needed a break and some alone time in prayer.
I went to Eucharistic Adoration with the hope of finding peace, quiet and my lost gratitude. However, all I could do was dwell on my challenges and how frustrated I was with my inability to listen during the hour before the Blessed Sacrament. I struggled to quiet my mind and be grateful for the blessings in my life, then I finally prayed an Our Father and left feeling worse than when I entered the chapel.
As I drove away it hit me: I was expressing gratitude for the wrong things. I was trying to be grateful for all of my blessings, but I felt nothing. I decided to instead be grateful for my challenges. That’s right… my challenges. If I was not having a good day, maybe God was trying to teach me something and I needed to be attentive to the lessons. As I prayed about each challenge, I began to see what I was supposed to learn and a genuine feeling of gratitude began to creep into my heart.
My overflowing plate was a reminder to be thankful for meaningful work which I love and to be a better steward of my time. The financial anxiety I was experiencing reminded me to be grateful that our family is focused on making sacrifices for our children’s education. My oldest son who struggles with high-functioning autism has special needs, but I am most grateful that he is my special child and a blessing in our lives. My younger son, learning to make his way and rapidly growing up, needs me to be a better listener and a candid guide in his teen years. My wife needs me to be more present and go all the way each day, not just meet her half way. Finally, I began to see my busy calendar as numerous opportunities to serve the countless people Christ places before me each day and to be more grateful that I am blessed to serve our Lord by helping others.
It is easy to focus only on the good and the easy blessings when expressing gratitude. It is also easy to allow ourselves to gripe when things are not going well. For me, my epiphany last week was a profound lesson on the need to be grateful for my challenges and the lessons they contain. The road to Heaven is not an easy one and there will be difficulties and even suffering. Our response to these challenges and the thankfulness we express to God for being a loving Father who cares enough to teach His children, makes all the difference.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about Randy Hain’s latest book? Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for Fathers of Children with Special Needs (Foreword by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput) is now available in both hardcover and paperback through Amazon.com, EmmausRoad.org and your local Catholic bookstore. You can find all of Randy’s books on Amazon.