The other day a friend asked how I was, and I replied, “Ungrateful.” In response to her surprised reaction, I confessed that as much as I have to be thankful for, I can’t seem to shift my focus from all the negative things: My uncle just died, the cat cost $300 in vet bills but regardless probably won’t live very much longer, my aching foot has resulted in unexpected medical bills and now I’m going to have to start making car payments as well, our country’s political situation is a mess, people who are immigrating continue to die terrible deaths as they seek a better life for their children, there is war, pestilence and famine.
The thing is, God, that I’ve been complaining about all of this to you, and nothing seems to change. Psalm 31 says, “I will rejoice and be glad in your love once you have seen my misery, observed my distress.” Is my misery and distress not enough for you? I know I’m fortunate in many ways. I have a job that pays the bills, a roof over my head and food on the table. The problem is that right now I don’t have enough left over to tithe to your church, to donate to the food bank, to send to the charities I usually write a check to each month. So I am grateful for the generosity of the friends for whom I house sat, for they not only gifted me with fine chocolate but also a check that was beyond what I expected. And I also got paid for a bit of freelance work, and someone offered to buy one of my bird photographs.
You have been generous, too, God, in lifting my spirits. Even when I’m chastising you for not answering me, you’re present. The other day I went looking for a rare bird that had been spotted at Antelope Island. I thought I found it, but when I posted the photo on Facebook a more experienced birder said it was the wrong species. So I complained to you, and soon enough another person came along and showed me where the rare bird was, but only just in time to see it disappear behind a rock, never to emerge again. So once more I was full of bitterness toward you. While I waited in vain for the bird to reappear, I snapped a few photos, but it wasn’t until I got home that I realized I’d documented a leucistic specimen, which is quite unusual and that sparked a Facebook discussion. I did thank you for that, but I’m not sure the grudging gratefulness offset the hostility I offered when I didn’t get what I wanted.
You didn’t seem to take umbrage, however, because the next time I went out with my camera you gave me an absolutely gorgeous photo of sunflowers in the late afternoon light while at the same time gifting me with the sight of yet another rare bird – a brown pelican, only the tenth specimen of that species to be seen in Utah since records have been kept.
Then, too, you have graced me with friends who not only tolerate my inability to see them except on sporadic occasions but who make the effort to treat me to picnics and meet me for brunch and invite me to their celebrations.
You delight as well in wonderful surprises, such as a national publication reprinting something I had written, and allowing me to discover this on a day when all seemed wrong with the world. And just as the gray cloud was returning to dim my outlook, I was in your house when the congregation sang “Alleluia” and suddenly a ray of clear light touched my soul.
You may have noticed, God, that I’m taking St. Paul’s advice to let my requests be known to you, but I’m struggling with the part about doing it with thanksgiving and not being anxious. I am trying, and I want to feel the joy that the psalmist promises you bring, but so far it’s beyond my grasp.
Do you think you could continue to be patient with me as, like the sinner in the parable, I stand in your presence unable to raise my eyes to you, and ask for your mercy? I am too often a churlish child who fails to see or appreciate the gifts you give, but I am doing my best to become an adult in my faith. Guide my growth, God, so that I may one day come before you singing with joy.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.