There was once a man who seemed to have it all. He came from a good family, married a lovely wife, had tremendous children, maintained a good job, owned a nice house in a lively neighborhood, and had lots of friends. But he also abused alcohol. It got so bad that he lost his job and his house, drove away his wife, was ostracized from his children, alienated his friends, and deceived his parents and siblings. He wound up living in the streets, indigent and destitute. One night, at a low point, as he rummaged through a dumpster and sought shelter from a storm, he came across a note that changed his life. It read: “For all that has been given to me, for all that has been taken away, for all that remains: Give Thanks.”
In the aftermath of Mother’s Day or other annual day of attention, graduation or other time in which we transition our living, we might reflect on blessings we have received (children, a good education, a decent home, the kindness of friends and family…). Some people are wealthy, intelligent, talented, beautiful, athletic, charming, powerful, or famous. Some have a fabulous family-of-origin, tremendous friends, a savvy disposition, a sharp mind, deep faith, or children that make them smile every day. Some have vacation homes on the coast, are good coaches, speak multiple languages, possess a winning disposition, own farmland, or have means to travel the world. Regardless of our socio-economics, each of us have been given many blessings. Maybe we live near a park or nature preserve, have grandparents who like to spend time with us, are quick with a joke, can do card tricks, or dance with great rhythm and instinct.
On similarly reflective or transitional occasions, we consider what has departed from us (a parent who died, perfect health that now wanes, ole friends that moved away, loss of a limb…). Some people fight addictions, are jobless, homeless, in a bad marriage, have no family or support system. Some grew up in foster homes, in poverty, in inadequate school systems, with detached parents, or without love. Some have had to bury children, live with debilitating disease, are victims of crime or bullying, or suffer bad luck at every turn. Regardless of opportunities or privileges, we have all had things taken away from us. Unless premature death, no one escapes physical or mental diminishment; intersections are crowded with citizens begging for food and money; and each of us has attended funerals for loved ones whom we miss deeply.
As a Catholic, I have been given many blessings including a structure of worship and prayer that ties me closely to God and the Saints, a culture of unity and communion and support from others with similar experiences, and indelible marks from Sacraments that give me spiritual strength. Much has also been taken: the dignity of priesthood, the church’s good standing in society, wonderful people who have left the church, and transfers from places I loved. Yet much remains. I carry a wealth of encounters and experiences in my mind and heart. I have been with families in times of great sadness and great joy. Though my energy level declines, I still have the ability to work hard and with the grace of God and goodness of His people, we accomplish worthwhile tasks that help make the world a little better.
Like the stories of the Bible and those of salvation history, much has been given us and much has been taken away. In spite of that, much remains. The guy in the story of my first paragraph realized that we should be thankful for, and focus upon, what still remains with us. If we do the same, we can pick up pieces beyond our losses, too—even be motivated by them—to redirect our lives to a place of gratitude. What has been given to you? What has been taken away? What remains? Can you be thankful for all of it?