Living with Expectation, Gratitude and Availability

Missouri Botanical Garden, SJG photo.

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Somehow, it’s January 1 once again. We have made yet another trip around the sun. I’m not one for making public declarations of my resolutions (although I do need to step up my walking and watch my portions once again…) but today I return to a question that might lead to a good resolution for all of us to consider on this first day of a New Year: How do we begin each day?

The older I get, my biological clock seems to be replacing the digital one beside my bed. On most days I awake a few minutes before the mechanical one goes off. So waking up is not a problem. Especially when you consider the alternative! I used to joke that I rarely saw the sunrise (“You mean to tell me that there are TWO six o’clocks?”) but now on most days I’m up before the day is. The question is, HOW do we wake up?

Before I really get started here, let me say that I do realize that we do not all wake up to the same world. Some wake up to another day of war or unrest or fighting a disease or depression or addiction. I know the world is not all goodness and light and full of possibility for us all in the same way and to the same extent. But nevertheless, the question is still worth asking. Or maybe questions. Today, I propose three of them: Can I greet the day with expectation and a sense of wonder and surprise? Can I begin the day with gratitude for all the blessings and opportunities in my life? Can I live each day available to those around me?

Expectation

Although our lives can seem dismal, hopeless and boring from time to time (or maybe more often than that for some of us), the power lies within us and within our relationship with God to change that. To give in to our feelings of hopelessness and boredom is to give them control over our lives. There may be days when we just don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to get anything done, don’t want to be creative and responsive to our gifts and responsibilities, but only we can decide to live differently.

The choice is ours. We can surrender to the darkness or we can throw off the covers and shout to God and the universe: “What have you got for me today? Surprise me! I’m ready for whatever you’ve got!” This declaration is both a challenge and an invitation. It’s a challenge that lets God and the world know that we are mentally, physically and spiritually ready for whatever is coming down the pike. But it is also an invitation that beckons us to surrender our days to God and allow a positive spirit of love, grace, compassion and gratitude to invade our lives.

John 10:10 tells us that Jesus came that we might have life and have it in abundance and joy. If we really believe that, it’s time we own up to the responsibility of accepting that gift. There should be no glum Christians, for we have been given life and called to joy.

SJG photo

Gratitude

Akin to living in expectation is living with an attitude of gratitude (sorry for the cliché but it seems to work here…). To awake each day with “thank you” on our lips and mind is to begin each day with the very best kind of prayer — a nod to the Creator and continuing force in the world. Gratitude is our recognition that we are not nearly enough alone. Gratitude is our response to the world and the God who made it. Most importantly, gratitude requires that we spend time recalling and remembering our days and the blessings they give.

In the Ignatian tradition of Christian spirituality, this “recalling” is the daily prayer of the examen, an examination of our “consciousness” and the moments of our lives when we might have encountered God and God’s handiwork. I’ve written about this before and you can read more here , but in its simplest form the examen is simply a prayerful review of our day, a way to steep our lives in gratitude because we make ourselves more aware of all that God has given us.

Availability

Finally, all this expectation and gratitude is bound to lead somewhere. The more we become aware of the God moving and working within us, the more we become aware of our blessings and the possibilities that live in each day, the more we must be willing to ask: Am I open to this? Am I willing to be open to the movement of God when that God seems to be nudging me in a certain direction? Or will I turn a deaf ear and go my own way? Am I willing to be more available to those around me? Am I willing to see each potential interchange with another person as the opportunity to be the “only Christ” they might encounter that day? Am I willing to forego comfort and convenience (and a legalistic adherence to MY life, MY schedule, MY sacrosanct beliefs) in order to just be available to others? It’s a false Christian faith that never makes time for the other because we’re too busy going to church, attending meetings and caring only for our families and those who agree with us.

Those who believe in the Incarnation of God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ have the perfect model of availability, as communicated to us in this beautiful passage from Philippians 2:

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

It seems 2017 may be another year of challenge, unrest and great change in the world. That’s nothing new. There will be wars. There will be politicians with whom we disagree. People will continue to get sick and die. We will all fight our demons. Most of this is far beyond our control. But we can control how we respond and how we choose the day before us. For these days, in sum, make up our lives. One by one we live them and soon enough they are done. We can awake in anger and confusion, or we can choose to arise with a song of surprise and gratitude ready to be sung out to the world. I choose that.

May Hosanna be the song we sing
Every day at our awakening.
As we lift up our hands in desperation or praise
May Hosanna be the song we raise.

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