I’ve thought a lot about gratitude this past year; what I’m grateful for, what it means to be grateful, and trying to be more grateful for things daily. That is because I, like many, have had a lot of priority and life changes this past year and a half that have altered how I evaluate my present circumstances. Thanks to Covid-19, I found myself laid off for three months last year, and like many was unable to enjoy the things that I now realize I took for granted. I accepted them as part of normal life; playing sports, eating out at restaurants, seeing friends and family, or even taking the bus without worrying that I may catch what was being described as a viral danger greater than the SARS virus. Life had changed in dramatic ways due to Covid-19, and just now are we starting to feel like things are getting back on track, at least in this part of the world. The old normal will not be the new normal, not for a long while at least, and the way we approach our lives and each other will be different as well. All this made me think about how I could live my life more graciously, and to thank God more often for the many good things around me before they get taken away. And I realized that even when the good things are taken away, we can still find that same graciousness in our hearts to help carry us through tough times.
Now that we can compare life prior to Covid, to what it was during the absolute worst days of the pandemic, to where we are now in this seemingly perpetual end game, how do we find ourselves in terms of our gratitude? How has our thankfulness for certain things changed over the past 18 months? Were we as grateful before Covid as we are now? Do you feel like you appreciate the little things, or big things, more often than you once did? I know for myself, most of the days of my life prior to Covid I did not have an active mindset of gratitude. As I have already said, I took many things for granted that I could do in my day-to day life. Even beyond that, I was free to travel abroad and explore the world, attend events with thousands of people, and add to my adventures and experiences in my leisure time. These things I accepted as normal are so recent a development in modern society. I never even fathomed a world where pursuing such activities would be impossible, even if one had the means to do so. And yet, such a world came to be. To add to this, I was sometimes frustrated by the pace of my life and the typical challenges of young adulthood. I would get hung up over what I can see now as challenges that any other person must face while they discover themselves. It was not some unique test laid down by the Lord himself to see if I was worthy. I did not look at the bigger picture to smooth out these feelings; I didn’t take a step back to realize that many other parts of my life were going well, and that I had the support and resources to make those parts even better. I could have focused on being thankful to God for all that I had.
Why is it that when your life is filled with so much light you focus on the dark? Sure, we humans are problem-solving creatures, and tend to put our efforts towards finding a solution to what holds us back or hinders us. But that trait should not come at the expense of gratitude for all the things that we do have.
With all that being said, though, I think we might certainly have understood if Job had found it impossible to maintain an “attitude of gratitude”. In our readings today, we cover the second half of that story, the better half, when God is satisfied by the response Job gave to the calamities that tested his faith and loyalty. Leading up to it, however, this man lost everything, and I mean everything! His family, his wealth, and his health. He was so beleaguered that his friends and the townspeople knew that it must only be because God had brought this down upon him, and that was in fact correct. Prior to this, Job had been richly blessed; he praised God for his good fortune and showed his gratitude each day. But Satan challenged God to take it all away from Job to see if his faith and gratitude waivered. Satan wanted to prove that people only had faith in God during the good times. Satan figured that once God’s provisions and support were taken away, Job would renounce his faith. God accepted that challenge and took away all that was good from Job’s life.
We all have bad days, but this was the worst series of days a man could have possibly endured. This was God turning the dial up to 11 on the misfortune scale for Job, and yet through it all, Job did not turn against God. Ultimately, he even learned not to question why God had done this to him. "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job knew to praise and trust in God even when he did not know the reasons for God’s actions.. As he was grateful in his times of fortune, so he was in his times of famine. How easy would it have been for him to blame God for all that had befallen him and give up his faith when times had gone tough?
That is the real test for a person’s gratitude; whether it remains despite the setbacks encountered or the challenges faced. Managing to be consistently grateful elevates a person’s state of being far more than flip flopping back and forth between gratitude and bitterness or anger. By remaining grateful, we remain positive throughout all the events of life, and as such can weather the ups and downs without greater personal impact.
When we do a straight comparison against what the average person went through in Covid to what Job went through in this story, it’s easy to see who got the tougher hand dealt to them. Whereas Job’s test of faith was directed only upon himself, our trials been spread amongst us all; the fact that we shared this experience together is itself something for which we can be grateful.
For most of us, our lowest lows were not nearly so low as Job’s. Despite that, we saw bitterness and frustration being poured out on all channels of communication because we could not live our normal lives anymore or partake in many of our expected luxuries and social outlets. I seem to recall a most egregious example that made the rounds on social media of a video of the rapper Cardi-B who filmed herself crying over a bowl of cereal because she could not order sushi to her mansion due to the lockdowns in the United States. Why she thought it was a good idea to film this breakdown and post it online, I’ll never know, but the idea that a situation such as that could be the cause of such an emotional response is mind boggling. Although I understand this is an extreme case, it does serve as an example of how we humans can become so distraught when we’ve come to expect a certain standard of living that is taken away. Did it seem like Cardi-B was grateful that instead of being stuck in a small, run-down apartment during Covid she was in a spacious mansion? She focused on what she didn’t have, a sushi dinner, so small in the grand scheme of life, and ignored what she did have – her health, her home, and income, three things that were taken away from Job and many people during Covid. You certainly did not see Job crying into his cereal bowl over his misfortunes, he was still as stoic as a statue taking these tests as they came upon him. His faith never wavered in God, and he held firm in the belief that God did have a plan for him that extended beyond these trials and hardships he faced.
The story of Job does have a happy ending, as many of us know, with Job’s life being blessed again once he had passed God’s test; in fact, Job’s fortunes were even greater than they were before. “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.” What does this tell us, then? That if we endure suffering enough, we will be rewarded by God? Perhaps that may happen to some of us, but I think a more fruitful way of looking at this, and one that is more relevant to what we have all experienced together during Covid, is that if you live your life in gratitude fueled by faith in a loving God, the good days will be brighter, and the bad days will not weigh you down quite so much. You will be able to persevere through the setbacks you face because your perception will not be shaped by the negative things that are happening around you. You will be able to better identify your blessings and have a deeper appreciation for the good things you have that are not taken from you.
At our baptism we pledge to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”. While we all emerge from this challenging time, it is a great opportunity to help those around us who have not been so fortunate through this period. Those of us who have greater means and resources can help those who have less. By serving those around us, we foster a community of gratitude which in turn can help us weather future challenges as well. This active service towards others also enhances our own sense of gratitude for what we have and encourages our own feelings of fulfilment. We are less likely to be shaken by hard times, and more likely to trust that God will again bring good times.
We can be grateful that the latter days of this crisis have arrived, and hopeful that times of normalcy are close at hand thanks to the innovation and cooperation of many. We have endured a crisis fraught with questions, ambiguity, and sacrifice.. May we all pray that this test of faith is preparing us for better days ahead, and that thanks to this experience we will be more mindful of our blessings day by day. May we be more active in our gratitude, thanking the Lord for our good fortunes whether they be large and obvious, or small and subtle. Amen.