I was walking on the street one day making my scheduled pastoral visits to the sick members in my parish. I passed by a group of little kids playing and I heard one of them call out, “Father!” I looked back and I saw them waving at me. I waved back enthusiastically and said, “Hello!” They giggled and smiled. I had some rosaries in my bag which I occasionally give when necessary to the sick parishioners I visit and so I took some out and gave it to the kids. They shrieked with delight and one of them said, “Salamat po, Father” and gave me a tight hug – my legs actually as she was so short.
Walking away, that made me think. As children, it takes very little to make us happy and grateful. Let us not lose that as adults.
Melody Beattie wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
2016 is the Year of Mercy in the Universal Church as Pope Francis declared. But in the local Church of the Philippines, the CBCP declared 2016 as the Year of the Family and the Eucharist.
How can we make the family a locus for education in gratitude?
The Power of “Thank You”
I was at a dinner invitation once. The mother of the family is a good friend. I couldn’t help noticing the intimate familial spirit hovering over the family table. No bowl of rice was passed without the courteous “please.” No plate of viand was received without a grateful “thank you!”
“Is that a rule of thumb at the family table?” I asked my friend after dinner.
“For a mother who prepares dinner night in and night out, it’s feel so light when you know you have grateful family members enjoying what you prepared,” she responded.
And after a smile punctuated pause, she added, “ It’s actually makes me look forward to serving them again the next meal. I don’t feel like a katulong (a house help) at all.”
That remark struck me. Without the heartfelt “thank you”, a mother can easily feel like a slave obligated to serve. Without the grateful words or gestures of appreciation, a father can feel like a laborer working like a horse to pay off a burdensome debt. Without gratitude, a family working for each other is akin to a community of slaves.
Giving oneself for a family member or any friend for that matter is never easy. At times it can really be burdensome. But those two simple words “thank you” make the load such a sweet burden.
The Courtesy of “Please”
Besides the “thank you’s”, I also noticed that every request given during that family dinner was punctuated by a “please”. It was especially sweet to hear it from the lips of the young children.
“My kids know I will give them whatever they want if I can,” the father shared to me. “But encouraging them to always say ‘please’ will teach kids that the world does not owe them,” he concluded.
Wise words from a wise father.
I have met children like that, and adults as well. I have held doors many times for women who never bothered to give even a perfunctory acknowledgement. They acted like it was my job to hold doors for them. I have offered seats for the elderly who gave me nothing but a blank stare. In my parish, I once gave an indigent person who came to the parish office, some pre-packed kilos of rice and cans of sardines. Instead of words of thanks, he responded by saying, “ Kailangan ko pang iluto ito eh.” Hiyang-hiya naman ako sa kanya! (Shame on me!)
The gratitude underneath the expression “please” transforms our sense of entitlement to a sense of stewardship. An entitled person never says “please” because he feels the world owes him, that people are forever there to meet their needs. Entitled people are afflicted with what we can call the “danger of security.”
Let me offer an analogy to explain this.
Ask any employer and they will you give this curious observation. While definitely not a generalization, contractual employees tend to perform better and be more conscientious of their work compared to their regular counterparts. I am not endorsing here the practice of contractual employment. That is inconsistent with the demands of social justice. Job security is a right any employee should be given and every employer should uphold.
But just a remark on the employers’ observation. Why is it that contractual workers seem to take their work more seriously compared to their regular counterparts? I think it’s because they are conscious that they do not have a hold on their jobs. They are well aware that anytime, it can be taken away from them. Familiarity breeds contempt. And indeed, regular employees can sometimes exhibit that attitude of familiarity: “I have my job secured. Now I can relax and loosen my guard.” I believe that even as we should promote the right to job security, we should look at our regular jobs always with a “contractual mentality.”
It’s the same in all areas of life. A steward looks at people and the world with a “contractual mentality.” He realizes that everything is a gift. That’s why he always says “please.”
To the parents reading this, I say, “What are you raising in your homes? Entitled brats or grateful stewards?”
The Fellowship of Helping Out
When dinner was over, the children did not run into their rooms or sit by themselves in front of the TV. No. One cleared the table, another tidied the tablemats and one assisted in doing the dishes. They clearly made use of the presence of each other.
That is also gratitude. Gratitude teaches us to celebrate the significance of the other.
John Stockton is the NBA all time leader in assists made and was recently inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. For those not into basketball, an assist is a statistic counted when a teammate passes the ball to another in such a way as to make it possible for that team mate score a goal immediately or easily. We usually notice only the man who scores the goal but as John Stockton said, “In every goal is a hidden assist.”
Gratitude helps us celebrate the significance of others by making us realize that in every “goal” we have made in life, there are people who “assisted” us in the background, without whom it will not have been easy or even possible.
I’m sure that those children who willingly offered their assistance to the family household chores will not have any problems recognizing the “assist” hidden in every goal they will accomplish later on in life.
Say “thank you” often. Always say “please”. Always see the “assist” hidden in every goal anyone accomplishes. Make your families a domestic school for this education in gratitude.