Happiness stems from thankfulness, unhappiness from complaints and self-pity. Gratitude reminds me that none of this stuff is really mine. It's God's, a generous giver who has loaned it to me.
On a cloudy Saturday morning, I sit in my usual prayer spot by the patio door and watch the birds in the yard. I find them endlessly fascinating.
The little sparrows who process almost solemnly by my small statue of St. Francis; the tiny, brilliant yellow birds who make a quick appearance and then flit away; the occasional bright red cardinal; the bevy of robins; the shiny, noisy blackbirds; the pairs of turtledoves who stay so lovingly close together -- they all intrigue me.
No ornithologist, I promise to look up the names of the birds I don't know but never get around to it. Instead, I just watch, gladdened by the graceful display.
But there's a flip side to this entertainment: bird droppings on the patio.
Recently, neighbors on both sides of us installed bird feeders. Not just one each, but two each, both bordering our property. So on either side of our small yard, a bird buffet, a literal smorgasbord, attracts an army of happy eaters. My yard represents a flight path between two feeding frenzies. Little birds loiter happily under the rosebush in my yard, sated and ready to poop.
Fortunately, our patio isn't directly under this flight path. From a potty angle, it could be much worse. So, I choose to see the birds as my personal aviary and I'm thankful for them.
But it was my husband, not me, who cleaned one of the patio chairs that had received a generous dollop that morning. As he brings out the hose and the spray disinfectant, I begin to see our bird situation as a metaphor for life in an imperfect world and the importance of gratitude.
Every Christian steward knows that at the very heart of stewardship lies a need and an obligation for thankfulness. It's the beginning of spirituality. It's why the medieval theologian Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'thank you,' it's enough."
Lack of gratefulness is a major impediment to spiritual growth.
It's a timeworn aphorism, but spirituality lies at its heart: "You can complain that rose bushes have thorns or rejoice that thorn bushes have roses."
Everything emanates from our Creator. Think of the very spark of life that created you. Think of every gift you've been given since. All of it, gift.
Happiness stems from thankfulness, unhappiness from complaints and self-pity. Gratitude reminds me that none of this stuff is really mine. It's God's, a generous giver who has loaned it to me. I should enjoy it, use it in love and service, and leave the rest behind. Don't cling to stuff.
Gratitude can be a great way to start a morning prayer. I think of the things I take for granted as "mine," and I give thanks for being gifted with them. Gratitude for hot, strong coffee. Gratitude for the flowers in the yard. Gratitude for good neighbors who are thoughtful enough to provide birds with lunch. Gratitude that in the midst of pollution and pesticides, little birds still prosper.
If we focus on daily gratitude, thankfulness for the small stuff, it helps us appreciate the bigger stuff. It gets us in practice for finding a way to say thanks when times are tough, when we have to search for the silver lining in a hard situation.
Gratitude turns our complaints into smiles. It gives us the truth of each precious day.
It's gratitude that reminds me, when it's my turn to wash the patio chair, to be grateful for the birds and the patio and the patio chairs.
EFFIE CALDAROLA IS A COLUMNIST WITH THE CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE.
Effie Caldarola is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.