One year as part of Bible Study, we used the spiritual discipline described in the book Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life (Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn, authors). The book is designed for children and families and is based on the examen, a prayer of St. Ignatius. At each Bible Study session, we would take some time to light a candle, then each person would respond to the question, What am I most grateful for? Then we would respond to a second question, What am I least grateful for? After our sharing and a closing prayer, we blew out the candle and were finished for the evening.
It was a very interesting process. Sometimes we found it very hard to figure out what we were least grateful for. We were often surprised at what we said. And how we felt about it.
One thing that tended to happen again and again was that in the process of examining what we were least grateful for, we found a hidden blessing. We discovered something we had not seen. We realized that something we were not grateful for had helped us or taught us an important lesson.
I have found this to true in my own experience. At one time, we had an older couple in the church and the wife had Alzheimer’s Disease. The situation was very difficult for the husband who was the caregiver. He would call me regularly to come over to their house to try to help when things got dicey. I was glad to go but I don’t think I was of much help. I was “least grateful” because I felt I was ineffective.
A few years later, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. My mother also had the same condition. In those frustrating experiences with parishioners, I had not been of much help to the couple. But later I saw that those experiences were of great help to me in preparing me to care for my parents. Something I was not grateful for at one point turned out to be something that I was very grateful for later.
To be honest, in those Bible Study prayer sessions, I think we all learned more about ourselves and the spiritual life through the discipline of identifying what we were least grateful for rather than what we were most grateful for. It was very illuminating.
So as we engage in this season of gratitude, may we be open to the possibility that something we are not grateful for may actually hold a blessing for us.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thinks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16