“A non-believer filled with gratitude for merely being alive ceases to be a non-believer.”
- Paul Tillich
Not long ago I heard someone refer to a great passage from scripture. He said: “Am I living up to this?” Perhaps the better question would be: “Am I living INTO this?” There’s a difference.
Living “up to” something implies rules and regulations, standards we must meet in order to be acceptable. Living “into” something means that we immerse ourselves in a particular Truth and allow it to carry us where it will, to form and fashion us, to make us better and stronger and more whole than we otherwise would be. A fundamental truth to live “into” is the one articulated by Tillich: to experience “gratitude for merely being alive.” That way we do not create rules or regulations for God (“God give me this or do that, then I will praise you!”). We simply embrace the beauty and blessing of being alive, and whatever comes next is part of that blessing.
Paul said it this way: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thessalonians 5:18) He did not mean that everything that happens to us will make us happy. Instead, he meant that whatever happens, we are alive. We’re still in the game. Even if bane has come our way, mere reason says that blessing, therefore, can also come. Furthermore, even in the bad times, there are always resources that help us cope: scripture, friends, pastors, written materials, counselors, meditation. And from the worst of times, we occasionally learn the best of lessons (which help build better and stronger futures).
A friend of mine went through a serious illness which involved intensive treatment. The treatments were temporarily debilitating and painful, but without them she could not have survived. I asked her how she managed to bear up under the pain. She answered; “Each time I hurt, it is a reminder that I am still here.” I believe one of the tools that helped her regain strength and health was the fact that she was “filled with gratitude for merely being alive.”
I’ve heard so many different people say it that I don’t know who to quote: “The happiest people on earth are those who know how to be thankful.” I can quote Fred Craddock whom I once heard talk about his son and daughter. Each was approaching college graduation. He was laboring, trying to determine what would be the best gifts he could give them on that momentous day. He said: “It finally came to me. Though I didn’t know how to wrap it or put a bow around it, I realized that the best gift I could give my children would be the gift of a thankful heart.” He was right. Those who live into a sense of gratitude will inevitably see the world in a different way. They will see glasses half full, and thus they will experience more joy than regret. They will see people in the image of God, and thus they will be more patient and peaceful than angry. And somehow, even those who are not by nature people of Faith will be drawn into an awareness of God if they live into the principle of gratitude. Isn’t that what Tillich said? “A non-believer filled with gratitude for merely being alive ceases to be a non-believer.”
Look around you today. However difficult yesterday was, or however today may have started out, look with the intent of seeing something blessed or beautiful. If you look for it, you will find it. Blessings are all around us if, as Jesus put it, we “have eyes to see.” And the key to our joy in life is rarely what surrounds us in the world, but how we choose to look at what surrounds us in the world. Look at life with an attitude of gratitude, and happiness will follow.