Grace, Gratitude, and Faith

By Mike Soika

One can’t understand gratitude without embracing grace.  It is by reflecting on the grace that befalls us every day that we begin to develop a deepening sense of gratitude.  On good days, it is easy to see the grace all around us; in the warm breeze, in the touch of a lover’s hand, in the laughter and innocence of a child. 

Poet Mary Oliver noted that “Attention without feeling… is only a report. An openness …is necessary if the attention is to matter.“ Oliver was a master at holding up the wonder of the world for all of us to reflect upon.  A honking goose, a grasshopper, the rain or sun, the trees or clouds – all were means she used in her poetry to help us uncover something deeper and richer emanating from our soul.  The grace of the world provides an ongoing invitation to experience the whisper of God from within.

It is a small step to go from recognizing the grace that abounds to being grateful for our many blessings.  G.K. Chesterton wrote that “…gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”  First, we marvel at the grace that showers us and then we cannot help but to become grateful for the bounty the Divine has granted.

Of course – identifying grace and showing our gratitude for it is easy when life is going our way.  But, what about when life is hard? How do we find grace and gratitude when we are in debilitating pain, or when we have lost a loved one, or when we have been fired from our job or when a family member has succumbed to drugs or alcohol, or when we have been abused?  What then?

Many a good believer has turned sour on the Spirit when life becomes crushing and prayers go unanswered.  The silence of God during desperate times can be the harshest cruelty to befall a struggling soul.

An excerpt from Psalm 102 aptly sums up this sense of existential void:

For I have eaten ashes like bread

and mixed my drink with tears

for You have picked me up and cast me aside…

and I wither away like grass.

It is when such spiritual darkness consumes us, when the thought of God’s grace is mocking us, when gratitude is beyond us, it is then we find whether we are led by faith. Only faith can sustain us when our troubled hearts and minds have crowded out grace and gratitude.  

Grace is bestowed upon us freely whether or not we desire it or feel we deserve it.  Gratitude is a byproduct of our embrace of grace.  But faith comes from the foundation of our relationship with the Divine who is always calling to us. 

We build up our faith when we work to quiet our ego and strive to hear the voice of our inward teacher.  The more we open ourselves up to God, the brighter does the light from within illuminate our path.

It is no accident that the Christmas celebration of the light of God incarnate comes during the darkest days of the year.  Even before the birth of Jesus, people celebrated the winter solstice (December 21st) as the point when the dark days begin to wane, and light conquers darkness.

Some have said that we either walk by faith or we walk in fear.  I don’t think the world is ever that clear.  Our lives are a paradox filled with the ebb and flow of grace and gratitude, woundedness and despair. We cannot evade the darkness in the world or the darkness in our souls.  But we can take solace in knowing that light abounds; that grace abounds; that love abounds…

and that the darkness will end.

The light of God abounds, and such is the grace we have been given. For this unearned grace, I am profoundly grateful.