This video, made by Igniter Media, made me think of my grandmother, who was always reminding the rest of us to “count our blessings”. Short and sweet, the video reminds us that we have things to be thankful for, and that we should be thankful for them. Watching the video, I felt that there were different levels of “things” to be thankful for.
On the first level are material goods: food, shelter and possessions. We know some people (probably quite a long way from us) don’t have food; we have seen it on the news and perhaps we have even seen someone searching through the trash looking for something to eat. We see people living on the streets and so we know that not everyone has a roof over their heads. We know people are struggling to find work. At the moment, because of all the economic problems, we probably know someone personally who has been laid off, or is worried about losing their home, or hasn’t had a vacation for a couple of years.
I think this first level also includes some things that those of us who grow up in the developed world take completely for granted (even more so than the first part of the list): safety, health and education. We do not live in a war zone, we have access to medicines and clean water, and we get to go to school. I say we take them more for granted, because we may complain about having to get up in the morning for school, or having to go for a tetanus shot, and I’m sure we all have something we really don’t like to eat, but I’ve not heard anyone moan about the fact that they have food.
If you have been without something, you are more likely to recognize its value. Maybe this is why my grandmother, having lived through two World Wars, which jeopardized all of the above, and whose older brothers and sisters never went to school, constantly told us to “count our blessings”. Perhaps that is why she remembered to count her blessings even when she no longer remembered who the people around her were or what they were talking about.
The second level includes family, friends and the relationships we have with them. If we are without material goods, we suffer physically; if we are without family and friends, people to care for and people to care for us, we also suffer. This is a growing problem … many people feel lonely or isolated — hardly surprising given that the most common type of household in the UK is the “single person household”. We prize self-reliance, self-sufficiency, individualism above neighbourliness, whereas dependence on others is seen as weakness. We prefer virtual friendship to real-life contact (a third of divorcing couples cite Facebook as a factor in the breakdown of their marriage). We would be unlikely to choose to go without material goods, yet we frequently choose to do without other people. And of course there are many people who, not by choice, are without family and friends.
The things in the third level are those we have which we don’t even notice because they are freely given to everyone. There are some suggestions of these in the video, but they aren’t mentioned specifically. Even if we have nothing from the first two groups, these are always available to us: things like creation in all its beauty, time, our innate human dignity…but above all these God and His loving presence that never abandons us. The guy in the video may feel like he has nothing to be thankful for, but he knows to pray, and he knows he is praying to God. If we suffer when something is missing from the first two levels, how much more do we suffer without God! But even if none of the rest is available to us, God and his love are always present, so much so that if he stopped thinking about us for a second we would cease to exist (CCC 301).
So, how can all this help us apostolically? Firstly, “count your blessings”, and remind others that they also have blessings to count. Everything has its proper weight: we don’t have to always think that the bad stuff is bigger or heavier than the good. With faith (and practice!) we can even see how God allows good to come from something which seems bad. If we look at the example of the saints, something which characterizes them (but isn’t limited to them) is the way they see everything, good or bad, as an opportunity to grow closer to God. We can share what we have with those who are without, through generosity and charity, but also by reaching out to those who we meet for the first time, those who are lonely, or far from family or friends.
Above all, we can share the joy of knowing God with other people, following the example of Mary when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, not just to serve her on a practical level but also to announce the Good News to her. Last, but not least, when we pray we can give thanks for all the good things in our life, and ask for the eyes of faith with which to see those good things. The psalms can be especially helpful when trying to find the words to thank God for the good things in our lives. Many of them are full praise for him, which naturally leads us to gratitude: open the book of Psalms at a random point and you will probably discover a psalm of thankfulness.