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Cultivating Gratitude in Our Hearts and Homes through Suffering

Posted by Theology of Home on
Cultivating Gratitude in Our Hearts and Homes through Suffering
By Carly Kashmanian

As Catholics, we have all the right tools to combat the temptation toward ingratitude, but so often we forget and have to learn the hard way.

Gratitude is the secret to true, enduring happiness. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most difficult virtues to cultivate and maintain in our media-saturated, consumerist society. As Catholics, we have all the right tools to combat the temptation toward ingratitude, but so often we forget and have to learn the hard way. Well, I do. But at least I learned, and I’m here to help you in the hope of making your journey to spiritual awakening less painful than mine was.

Last month, my entire family got hit with an awful cold a week before we were supposed to move into our new home. My husband and I and our two boys, ages 1 and 3, each had some combination of sore throat, runny nose, and coughs. Just when I thought the nose-blowing, medicine-administering, temperature-checking, humidifier-filling marathon was coming to an end, I contracted my first-ever UTI. 

It was Tuesday — the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows. The house was ready, and our plan was to gradually move our things in during the week and have the final big furniture move Saturday. My family and I were temporarily staying at my parents’ home, a stone’s throw from our new abode, so my husband and I were going to do all of this in the evenings, after the kids were down. The next day, Wednesday, was our wedding anniversary, and I was running a fever, taking antibiotics, and felt more drained than I had since giving birth to our youngest. 

I was bitter. There were so many things I wanted to clean, organize, and buy for our new home. I wanted to enjoy a glass of champagne while laying out rugs and hanging curtains in my new home on my anniversary— I had a PLAN, and it was perfect. Or at least I thought it was.

As I lay in bed, exhausted and wallowing in my sorrows while waiting for the meds to kick in and give me some relief, I had an epiphany. Suddenly I was awakened to my comfortable life and the perceived needs and entitlements I was allowing to consume me. 

My mind wandered to books I’d read in recent months, like Theology of Home and Emily Stimpson Chapman’s The Catholic Table (especially her thoughts on not letting a “perfect home” become the enemy of true hospitality). Finally, I recalled that it was the blessed feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. In the midst of what I thought was the most unfortunate scenario, the Holy Spirit granted me perspective, prompting me to reflect on my many blessings: my husband (who took a half day off to lovingly care for our boys), my parents (loving, generous, and present — especially my mom, mysteriously the only one spared from our illness), and my wonderful children, who were blissfully unaware and uncorrupted by the temptations that were robbing me of peace, gratitude, and joy in this beautiful life the Lord has given me. I was reminded of the “why” behind all of my worry and preparation. It wasn’t about the home — it was about the precious souls whom it would shelter, comfort, inspire, and serve.

God then directed my attention to my mother’s friend Sue, who passed away this past June at age 61 after a grueling three-year battle with a rare form of leukemia. Sue was the mother of seven adult children, whom she raised with her college sweetheart and husband of 36 years, Kevin. She was an extremely capable woman, who managed everything for her family — from food, to finances, to school activities and home improvement projects — with the expertise and intensity of a CEO. She frequently delivered meals to neighbors in need, ran a house cleaning business, and helped lead a local bible study. As her illness progressed, she was forced to delegate certain tasks for the first time ever, and instead of bitterly resenting her newfound dependence on others, she humbled herself and opened her heart to the workings of grace. She gained a new appreciation for her husband and his comparatively relaxed approach to running their household, and she comprehended in a profound way who was really in control. 

Through the sickness and various trials she encountered in her last days on Earth, Sue’s constant refrain became, “God’s got this.” She left this life with a heart that was full and grateful, refined by intense suffering. My mom would visit her home often, and many times Sue was too sick to even talk. Sue kept things very simple to avoid clutter from the constant flow of family and visitors, but there was always a holy peace about her home that was inviting and warm. Even on her death bed, God enabled Sue to be the perfect homemaker, blessing her family with her faithfulness. 

It was in pondering all of this while sick and bed ridden myself, that this moment of awakening smacked me in the face. So obvious is it, that I am still embarrassed I needed the lesson in gratitude to begin with. But I did. We all do every now and then, because we are sheep — pathetic, wandering, ungrateful sheep — in need of a savior. Graciously, God gave us not only a savior, but two millennia of holy sufferers to show and remind us how it’s done, starting with the unmatchable Mother Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. 

I invite you to take a moment and reflect on the Psalm selection from Our Lady of Sorrows’ feast:

Responsorial Psalm 

PS 100:1B-2, 3, 4, 5

R. (3) We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness;

come before him with joyful song.

R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Know that the LORD is God;

he made us, his we are;

his people, the flock he tends.

R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

his courts with praise;

Give thanks to him; bless his name.

R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

For he is good, the LORD, 

whose kindness endures forever,

and his faithfulness, to all generations. 

R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

A wise priest once gave me the penance of saying a rosary, using each bead to meditate on an individual blessing in my life (surprise! I’ve struggled with gratitude before). Sound difficult? Try it. You’ll find no task easier than listing the infinite and inexhaustible blessings the Lord heaps upon our humble lives. Here’s some to get you started: Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Mother Church, Mary and the saints, and YOU — mind, body, and soul, and the promise of their complete renewal.

My husband has a favorite phrase he learned from a family friend and priest growing up: nobody has a monopoly on suffering. It was never part of God’s original plan for humankind, but it is unavoidable, and we must learn to suffer well if we wish to unite ourselves to Christ. Holy suffering requires gratitude. 

With fall in full swing, and especially with many stores opening their doors for the first time (get behind me, Home Goods), let’s pause — truly pause — and meditate on our abundant blessings. Live gratefully and joyfully, so that one day we may all “enter his gates with thanksgiving.”

Carly Kashmanian is a freelance writer and editor living with her husband and two sons in her beautiful hometown in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a Catholic convert and alumna of The King's College in New York City. She has published bylines at CatholicVote, Faithwire, TheBlaze, Conservative Review, and Fox News. Follow her work on Twitter @carlyhoilman.

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