“He is not coming back, Anna. You have to begin a new life.”
Those hard words came over the phone from a trusted priest. I sat shivering in my car on a chilly November night after a Nutcracker dance rehearsal. The life I had known for a decade was over and shattered like the thin ice forming outside. After delivering the final verdict, Fr. S. gave me the best life advice one can receive in such a situation and this practice has become the bedrock of my spiritual life.
“Every day, even if you cannot see anything good and all seems completely dark, thank God for everything.”
For the following chaotic weeks and months, I struggled to pray. At the very least, I held the small wooden cross from my prayer corner morning or night and cried. The wretched, lonely days soon filled with more good people and circumstances and things I could offer back in gratitude. I am wealthy in friendship now in more ways than I have ever experienced in my life.
When I find myself discontented or grumpy with my circumstances, I know I’ve strayed from my ‘square one’ of gratitude. As St. Paisios describes,
When a person is grateful, they are pleased with everything. They think about what God has given them every single day and find joy in all things. However, when they are ungrateful, nothing pleases them and they grumble and complain about everything . If he doesn’t appreciate the sunshine and complains, the cold north-west wind comes and freezes him. He doesn’t want the sunshine; he wants to shiver because of the cold wind…Christ wanted the lepers to be grateful not for His sake, but for their sake, because gratitude would have been to their benefit.
How can you thank God for the terrible things someone else has done to you? Or for physical pain? Or for financial struggle? Gratitude for the ‘ugly’ things raises our hearts towards the the Kingdom of God, where there is love and redemption. I can testify that what you lose does come back, maybe not in the same form, but often in a much richer, unexpectedly wonderful way. Love comes to you when you are most broken and you let others see it. I can start giving back now, as long as I am not afraid to show my scars. The redemption of suffering is being able to turn around to others who are going through the same pain and say, “You are not alone.”