My body had fallen into another funk in which my irritating neurological symptoms were rearing their ugly heads. The main culprit? Fatigue.
To my disgust, I was once again requiring afternoon naps. My nights were restless and regardless of how many hours, the amount of sleep I did get was never satisfying. I was most frustrated that my activities had to be dramatically minimized to conserve the limited energy I had to expend.
It was a disheartening reminder that my health cannot be taken for granted.
And so the spiritual discipline of gratitude was called forth…reluctantly. Honestly, this is when my inner pessimist comes out to play or in this case, protest.
Not easy being grateful when things are not going well, is it? But what if you are dying? During my week of intentional gratitude, I had an epiphany. There, on the wall directly above one of my hospice patients were these words in big bold print from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Be thankful in all circumstances…
I was struck by the profundity of the image. Wow. Even in our dying days we are called as Christians to be grateful. Whether we are healthy or chronically ill, wealthy or destitute, living or dying we are to be thankful…in ALL circumstances.
One of my favorite gratitude stories is told by Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place. This Dutch woman along with her father, brother, sisters and other family members, helped Jews escape capture by the Germans in WWII. They were eventually arrested. Along with her older sister Betsie, Corrie faced the perils of Dutch prisons and finally the Ravensbrueck concentration camp where her sister would die. (Learn more about Corrie here)
The sisters had miraculously smuggled a Bible into prison and used it as their primary source of strength to spiritually and emotionally endure.
After being moved to an overcrowded, flea-infested barracks, Bestie recalled the same scripture from 1 Thessalonian 5:18 and began listing off what she was grateful for: She and Corrie had not been separated but instead had been assigned to the same barracks. The sisters had not been searched before entering their new quarters so the Bible, contraband that it was, remained in their possession. The barracks was overcrowded, but that meant they could share God’s light and love with more women.
And then Bestie gave thanks for the fleas.
“The fleas!” Corrie writes in The Hiding Place. “This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.'”
But Bestie insisted. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” she reminded Corrie. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
Much to Corrie’s surprise, a genuine gratitude did come, however.
It was Bestie who overheard a guard adamantly refuse to enter their barracks because of the flea infestation. The fleas. Although the women had noticed an unusual absence of guards, all was now clear. Since the guards were avoiding the fleas by remaining out of their building, the sisters had been able to hold regular worship for their fellow prisoners.
Yep. Thank God for those tiny, irritating creatures.
I’ll end with these words from writer and poet, John Milton.
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
So practice being grateful every single day, no matter what comes your way.
Even the smallest blessing can be found. Let your daily “transcendent moments of awe” not only enhance your experience of life and the world, but let them prepare you to gracefully face your own mortality.
Into your dying days, may gratitude be ever flowing.