Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Giving Thanks in All Circumstances- #1000Speak

In the fifth grade, we were assigned to present short plays adapted from books we had read.  My best friend asked me to appear in her scene from Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.

Corrie and her family were members of the resistance in Holland during World War I, and she spent time in a concentration camp for these activities (which included hiding Jews in a secret room in the family home).

Corrie and her sister Betsie had managed to sneak a Bible into the camp with them, and in our scene they were praying over a verse in First Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

It sounded crazy to Corrie to thank God for their current circumstances, and it probably sounds even crazier to us, but Betsie was able to point out two obvious blessings: that they were assigned to the same camp and that the Bible had not been taken from them.  But when she started to give thanks for the fleas in the barracks, Corrie thought she had taken leave of her senses–until later, when the women in their barracks were left untouched by the soldiers who would have raped them but for distaste for the fleas.

Most of us won’t have to deal with circumstances that are so dire, but being thankful in all circumstances is still a great attitude to have, and one I’ve been trying hard to cultivate.  Every night I start my prayers by thanking God for everything good about my day.  And I don’t mean big things–I mean things like a sunny day, or having time to work in my garden, or a nice dinner, or an easy time getting William’s homework done.  I’m not allowed to ASK for anything until I say thank you, and plenty of times I fall asleep before I make it to the end of the gratitude list!

They say that practice makes perfect, and practicing gratitude is no different.  When I started doing this I had a harder time coming up with things to be thankful for.  Now my list is long and I find myself looking forward to  this ritual.

I’ve even come to be grateful for trials, because they’ve led me to be compassionate towards others who suffer.  Financial problems, broken cars, difficulties in parenting, even the loss of our home and possessions to fire–all of these have presented me with opportunities to empathize with others who have suffered and have saved me from the temptation to judge them.

This post is part of #1000Speak, a monthly linkup with the goal of writing about and spreading compassion.  The topic for this month is Gratitude.  To see other posts, please click the picture below.

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Love: The Key to Compassion

Love, love, love, love:

Christians, this is your call;

Love your neighbor as yourself

For God loves us all.

We sang it in a round and we sang it well, because Sister Janice had us practice it before Mass began.  We sat on the hard metal folding chairs in the cafeteria/chapel and sang it over and over again, but we didn’t really understand it.  Not yet.

I remember well wondering–maybe even asking–just exactly how we were supposed to love everyone?  I couldn’t comprehend how I was supposed to love people I didn’t know, had never met, or maybe did know and didn’t like!  I seem to recall that my mother told me I would understand one day.

And she was right.  I don’t know exactly when my heart broke open and I started to care about everyone in the world, to love them–maybe not as much as I love myself, because that would be too demanding, wouldn’t it? But at least enough to feel empathy for them, to cry at their stories, to make allowances for their faults.

I’m not an especially nice person.  I think that most people reach a point in life where they too understand that kind of love.  And this love–agape–is the basis for compassion, for feeling with another person.

And yet wars, violence, hate, division–these do not go away.  Your Facebook Timeline is probably littered with memes that are the antithesis of love and compassion right this minute.  I think that’s because the demands of this love are too much for us and so we protect ourselves by “otherizing.”  If this person or that person or this group or that group is NOT LIKE US, we can tell ourselves we don’t really have to love them.  We can label them monsters, or heathens, or extremists, or deadbeats, or fanatics, or even liberals and conservatives.  Then we can get back to loving the people who are more like us.

Some say that Christianity–and please understand I am not advocating for imposing a state religion, just talking about what might happen if all Christians radically followed all the teachings of Christ–could never work to solve the problems of the world on a wide scale.  GK Chesterton made this famous response: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

What if we tried it, really tried it?  What if we let ourselves love?  How would the world be transformed?

And that reminds me of another song we used to sing when I was a little girl at St. Joseph School.

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love;

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

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Please visit the other blogs in the monthly #1000Speak linkup by clicking above!

And more great blogs to visit below at the #WorthRevisit link up hosted by Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You!

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#1000Speak: Moving from Acceptance to Compassion

When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. ~ Mark 6:34
That’s the last line from yesterday’s Gospel, providing inspiration for me as I respond to this month’s 1000 Speak for Compassion link up.

This month’s topic is Acceptance, which Jesus demonstrates perfectly in the reading above.  See, the disciples had just come back from preaching and teaching and healing.  They were excited to tell Jesus about their adventures, and I’m sure he was excited to hear about them.  But all the people wouldn’t leave them alone.
Jesus knew his disciples needed to rest; they hadn’t even had time to eat anything.  He suggested they withdraw to a “desolate place” so they could be alone and rest.  But the anxious crowds figured out the plan, and pursued them on land as they traveled by boat.  So that when they came ashore, thousands of people (the same 5,000 people who are going to be fed miraculously later) were already there waiting for them.
Now, I don’t know about you, but compassion would NOT have been MY first reaction to this ambush! I would have been irritated, and maybe I would have gotten back in my boat and tried for another, more desolate location.  But this is where ACCEPTANCE comes in.
Jesus accepts his role as shepherd to these frightened sheep.  He gives up his plan of rest and relaxation to care for them.  Can we do the same?  When you are at work, and it’s almost time to leave, and another customer comes in with an annoying concern, can you ACCEPT that this is where you are supposed to be and have compassion for the needs of that person?  When your Facebook friend posts something you disagree with, can you ACCEPT that you have different opinions and have compassion for him? When you are trying desperately to get a moment alone, and your kids are following you around everywhere, can you ACCEPT that your role for this season is to take care of them and have compassion for them?  When your spouse seems demanding and you feel like you are already giving 120%, can you ACCEPT that part of marriage is offering compassion even when you aren’t really feeling it?
ACCEPTANCE is the first step to compassion in these situations.  We cannot “feel WITH” someone without first accepting our role and our call to be of service to that person.  Without acceptance, there is a wall of resentment that prevents true compassion.
#1000 SpeakWant to learn more about 1000Speak?  Start here.  And be sure to check out the other entries in this month’s linkup.
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Nature, Nurture, and Compassion

Nature vs. Nurture? It’s a common argument that may never be settled, but one thing I know about me:  it’s my nature to nurture.
When I was a teenager, I was crazy about babies.  I mean, who doesn’t love a baby but I could hardly stop thinking about how much I wanted one of my own.  It’s a good thing I got married when I was 22 so I could go ahead and get started on that!  I wanted ten but ultimately had to settle for five.
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I’m not a big animal lover honestly, but just let a stray cat appear on our porch and I’m suddenly all about helping the kids make friends with it and hoping it stays around.  Over the course of the past twenty years or so we’ve adopted about eight cats this way.
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There are often stray people hanging around our house too.  My oldest son is also a big-time nurturer.  He has friends over all the time, and he is frequently in my kitchen feeding them.  I try to be annoyed by them, but before long find myself calling them sweetie and worrying that they are not taking good care of themselves.
I’m writing this post as part of 1000 Speak for Compassion, which is an initiative to flood the internet with good on the 20th of each month.  Compassion, literally, means to suffer with someone. The Bible tells us that Jesus experienced compassion: Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds,  he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless,  like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus’s compassion for the people led Him to action:  and not only did He nurture them, by healing their sick, sharing God’s word with them, and feeding them, He also called on us to do the same.
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Nurturing springs from a place of compassion.  You hear a baby crying, and instantly you feel what it would be like to be helpless and hungry with no way to alleviate your condition, and you are moved to care for that child.  You see a cold and wet cat sitting outside, and you think of being cold and lonely and want to help.  These connections may not be conscious, but they are there.
Some people are more naturally nurturing than others, no doubt.  But compassion and nurturing are qualities that we can instill in our children, simply by modeling them both in our care for our kids and for those around us.  Children who are nurtured and cared for compassionately are far more likely to do the same than those who are abused and ignored–that’s no mystery.
It should be relatively easy to nurture your own children and treat them with compassion–at least most of the time! But we have to go further if we want to create a nurturing and compassionate society.  Just yesterday a friend posted on Facebook about how children parrot the ugly views of their parents online.  We have to look at the way we are treating others in society, and the way we are talking about them.  Actions may speak louder than words, but words are still important.  If you talk disrespectfully about “the least of these” by calling them lazy or freeloaders, you aren’t exactly modeling compassion for your kids even if you donate food to the church pantry.  You can’t be truly compassionate towards people when you distance yourself from them.  You’ll teach your children a lot more about nurturing and compassion by shaking hands with homeless man on the street and asking him his name than by writing a check to a charity.
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. 
Matthew 35-36
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#1000 Speak: Bullies on the Bus

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When Lorelei was very little, she’d get mad at her big brothers and yell, “Shub up!  Beeg bully!” With four older siblings, it’s not surprising she’d heard the phrase “shut up,” but I’m not sure how she already knew what a bully was:  someone bigger, stronger, more powerful, higher in the pecking order, who uses their position to pick on someone else.
Of course, older siblings tease younger ones.  Lorelei was never subjected to the systematic bullying that devastates so many childhoods.  My own experience with bullying took place on the school bus.
I was an extremely precocious child, and in my earliest memories of riding the bus, when I was a first grader, the big kids (8th graders who appear as adults in my memory) made a big fuss over me, calling me to the back of the bus and having me read passages from their science books aloud.
But what was cute one year was bullying fodder a few years later.  I think I was in the third grade when some of the middle school girls on the bus began picking on me.  I remember some nasty name calling, and once being smacked.  I remember some of the girls who were involved (kids from good families whose parents would probably have been shocked by their behavior), and not much else, except dreading the bus ride home.  I told my mother everything, and I’m sure she talked to the principal, and I think I ended up not riding the bus for awhile.  I know that I was lucky:  people listened, and eventually the bullying stopped.
I never bullied anyone myself (except my little sister, as she loves to remind me), but I often regret that I didn’t try harder to befriend the kids in almost every class who were bullied.  I do remember trying to talk to some of them, and in my memory they often repelled friendly overtures.  Perhaps they distrusted me, or maybe that was part of their self-defense mechanism, or maybe it was their own difficulties with social interaction that made them bully magnets.  I don’t know.
As parents, we are proud of our children for taking a stance against the bullying of some of their classmates.  Our kids aren’t perfect, but they are kind. I wrote here about how William dealt with a boy who was bullying (or perhaps constantly annoying) him.
While my sister and I both laugh at her stories of how I picked on her, but I also feel bad.  And I think sometimes about the girls who bullied me.  Because I went to a small Catholic school, and still live in the town where I grew up, I don’t have to wonder what happened to them–they are still around.  And they grew up to be nice people.  Do they even remember the incidents on the bus?  Was it was the big deal to them that it was to me, or was it just an amusement and quickly forgotten?  Do they ever think about it when they teach their own kids how to treat others?
Being bullied led me to be kinder to others and to teach my kids to do the same.  I hope that the reformed bullies from my past DO remember and model kindness for their kids.

For more entries in #1000Speak: Building from Bullying, click here.