Have you ever noticed that some people are always complaining? I don’t mean an occasional complaint or moment of venting, but someone who always complains; always sees the negative in everything that happens. A million good things can occur but they will find the one thing wrong and spend reams of time repeating and repeating what “gets to them”, what “they can’t stand”, what seems to always make them “mad”. It is very sad because these individual lead lives of negativity and emptiness, never seeing the wonder and the beauty of life. When you try to point this out charitably, they peg you as being a “Pollyanna”, advising you to wise-up and “smell the coffee”. Unfortunately, those trapped in this way live in darkness and perpetual want, often with good things all around them.
In this reflection, I want to talk about the very opposite: gratitude.
I have found in my life that when I center on my complaints (many of them legitimate), I descend into an area of resentment and victimhood that I can’t seem to get out of. The energy of anger carries me forward and prevents me from doing anything but complaining and seething against the inflicting party. Even when I try to confront people like this, it ends badly either because I try to sweeten it so much that it bears no resemblance to the offense or that I go way overboard and create more problems than the one I am trying to solve.
I remember an incident from the life of St. Frances de Sales who was one of the gentlest and mildest of men. But he wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, as a youth, he was a hot-head who got into many conflicts. Then he met the Lord and the Lord changed the anger into a strong gentleness.
In this incident that impressed me so much about him, the head of the Visitation Order, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, advised him to respond forcibly and strongly, even raising his voice angrily against someone who was disrupting the Order. He replied: “Do you want me to lose in 15 minutes what it took years to build?”
It is an uphill climb to be a better person. So as to not lose what we have gained, it is advisable to surround ourselves with an attitude of deep gratitude. Thankfulness creates an invincible defense and provides sure direction as to where we need to go to preserve our gains.
As St. Frances de Sales knew instinctively, things can go downhill very fast and gather momentum as we go back to our original state of complaint and negativity.
Like trust, which takes years to build and can be lost with one wrong moment, our growth in the Spirit needs to be valued and protected. Gentleness and Forgiveness seem to be the attitudes of weak persons but they are in fact very strong and powerful antidotes to the virus of complaint.
The saints remind us so often that everything we have is a pure gift. From being born into this world, which we had nothing to do with, to every persona and experience in our lives: all is gift. Our very existence is a grace from God to the world.
There is a very moving scene in the novel “Diary of a Country Priest” where the priest is dying of cancer in the house of a friend who left the priesthood. As the defrocked priest goes to get the Holy Oils which he could administer in an emergency, the dying priest says not to worry: “All is Grace”.
If we understand this, we can truly say that everything, even our suffering and death, is a gift from God; and our entire life can be lived as one long thank you.
How different to the culture of complaint!
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You because in Christ Your Son You have blessed us with every manner of spiritual blessings in the heavenly realm. Those blessings correspond to Your choice of us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in Your sight. You have filled us with the grace of Your Son by imparting to us all manner of wisdom and practical knowledge, making known to us—in keeping with Your good pleasure—the mystery of Your Will. For this we thank You. Amen.