Giving thanks in all things is the secret to happiness AND holiness
“Always rejoice, pray without ceasing, in all things give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
This advice which St. Paul gave the Thessalonians—in what might well be the first Biblical epistle he wrote—has always resonated with me. It’s so simple, yet profound.
It suggests that there’s a close relationship between three realities: happiness, a life of prayer and holiness, and gratitude. In fact, thanking God in all things, as the saints have taught, is a simple means to grow in happiness and holiness.
Secret of happiness
“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness,” said St. Gianna Molla. She realized that each circumstance of life is a gift from God, for which we ought to thank Him: “To them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Romans 8:28).
That’s because thanking God for all things implies that we recognize His Presence and Love in all circumstances of life. It’s what enabled St. Therese of Lisieux, as she neared the end of her brief life on earth, to say, “If you find me dead in the morning, don’t be troubled: it is because Papa, God, will have come to get me. Without a doubt, it’s a great grace to receive the sacraments; but when God doesn’t allow it, it’s good just the same; everything is a grace” (Her Last Conversations, p. 57).
At another time, she explained this simple truth:
Everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love—difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs….Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift.
St. Therese saw God behind all things—and to see God is the source of happiness in this life, as it is also the basis of eternal happiness in heaven.
Secret of holiness
St. Bernard of Clairvaux taught that growth in holiness is measured by growth in love for God. He enumerated four stages in the growth of love (On the Love of God), and it’s not hard to see that gratitude plays a pivotal role in making progress in these stages.
- First, we love ourselves selfishly—often not even aware of God’s presence in our lives.
- As we notice our own insufficiency and sinfulness, we begin to notice the good things we receive. In gratitude, we turn to God and begin loving Him—but still selfishly, because of the good He does for us.
- Then, seeing beyond the gifts to the Giver, we learn to appreciate them more and more because they are His blessings. We come to love God for His own sake, thankful for Who He is.
- Finally, recognizing and accepting even sufferings as gifts from God, we learn to gratefully embrace every circumstance of life as part of His loving plan for us. We begin to see ourselves as He sees us, and desire to become the persons He wills us to be. We begin to love even ourselves for God’s sake—and to love God not only in Himself, but in ourselves and in all He sends us! We can say, as did St. Paul, “And I live, now not I: but Christ liveth in me!” (Galatians 2:20)
Help from Cardinal Newman
If you ever struggle to see God’s loving Hand in your life, this beautiful prayer by Blessed John Henry Newman can help:
I believe, O my Savior, that Thou knowest just what is best for me. I believe that Thou lovest me better than I love myself, that Thou art all-wise in Thy Providence, and all-powerful in Thy protection. I am ignorant of what is to happen to me in time to come; but I resign myself entirely to my ignorance, and thank Thee with all my heart that Thou hast taken me out of my own keeping, and hast bidden me to put myself into Thy hands. I can ask nothing better than this, to be in Thy care, not my own. I protest, O my Lord, that, through Thy grace, I will follow Thee wherever Thou goest, and will not lead the way. I will wait on Thee for Thy guidance, and, on obtaining it, I will act upon it in simplicity and without fear.