January 25, 2008

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Children teach us about gratitude

Sean GallagherMy son, Raphael, recently celebrated his third birthday. Grandparents, godparents and a few uncles, aunts and cousins were present for the occasion.

Little Raphael was excited with each gift he opened. He even liked getting clothes. When I was little, I enjoyed getting toys. But opening a box with pants or a sweater was almost a disappointment. Truth be told, I’m still a little like that today.

But not Raphael. He just smiled and beamed throughout his birthday party. But he is like that on ordinary days, too.

Recently, I came home from the grocery with a jug of orange juice in one hand. As soon as Raphael saw it, he came running over, saying, ‘Orange juicy!” (He often puts a “y” on the ends of words when he’s excited.) He even gave the jug a little kiss.

All of this is cute. It’s adorable. It’s just what a 3-year-old does—at least when he is being good.

But if you look at this behavior through the eyes of faith, you may see a deeper meaning in it.

Even if Raphael wouldn’t be able to name it, he is being grateful in all of these instances. He is grateful for the toy tool set he got on his birthday. But he is also thankful for a simple jug of juice.

We adults tend to take gifts both big and small for granted. Perhaps it’s because we think we deserve gifts. There was certainly no air of self-congratulation in Raphael’s reactions.

But perhaps more importantly, we adults might not recognize gifts when they come to us. And they’re coming to us all the time. Ultimately, everything that we have, including our very life, is a gift from God. Do we recognize the giftedness of our life and everything else in it?

Perhaps we don’t because we adults think that the state of our life as it is here and now is the result of our own hard work. Now God certainly wants us to work with the grace that he gives us. But all of our work wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if God’s grace wasn’t there to begin it all and to bring it to fruition.

Raphael knew at a basic level that he didn’t do any work to receive those birthday presents or that jug of orange juice. He knew they were gifts, and he responded with gratitude.

Raphael was also not afraid to show that gratitude. We adults might be a little embarrassed to show our heartfelt thankfulness. If we did, it just might puncture that little bubble we’re living in where we think we provide everything for ourselves.

Raphael’s gratefulness is one aspect that we can see in our everyday lives of what Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him who was the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

In response, Jesus called a child to him and said: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3-4).

We adults need to do the kind of turning that Jesus describes. We need to give ourselves over to the grace of that continuing conversion in our day-to-day lives that will help us be more like little Raphael, and grow to recognize more clearly and be more wholly grateful for all of the gifts that God gives us each day.

I want to learn more and more from my young son. I want to be more like him in his gratefulness. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return the favor and help him hang on to that humble perspective on life as he grows up. †

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