Second in a series of posts on virtue. The first can be found here.
My husband and I are in the midst of a search for our first house. We have a limited budget, like most single income families, and I often find my imaginings for our first house to be much grander than what is actually available to us. Ever since we were married I would find myself looking at nice, large houses thinking that it would be great for a large family, and knowing all the while that I would never be able to have a home as large or as nice. When you marry a man aspiring to a career in the liberal arts you cannot really expect to have the dream house, especially when your husband’s dream home is a combination of the Earthship’s of New Mexico, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style, a Hobbit style house, and Pemberly as portrayed in the BBC’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice.
Since what we desire is fairly ridiculous and entirely unfeasible, I realize that we need to change our expectations about a house and be thankful to God for the gifts he has given us. It is so easy to fall into the vices of greed and covetousness without even realizing it. The thoughts of wishing for a nicer car, house, clothes slip into the mind, and when they are entertained the vice develops. Instead of falling into these vices, we can develop habits that create virtue in us. One virtue that helps is that of gratitude to God for all of His blessings. I may not be able to live in the most beautiful mansion in St. Paul, or even a six bedroom house that will hold a growing family, but I will be able to buy a house that has a solid roof, a good foundation, a yard, and most likely a garage. I will have a kitchen with electricity, running water, clean dishes, and good food. There will be a washer and dryer in my house so my clothes are easy to clean, and bedrooms for sleeping in with soft beds and warm blankets. I will also have at least one bathroom (hooray for indoor plumbing!). And my house will be clean, because we will take care of it and maintain it.
Prayers of thanksgiving are the primary way to develop the virtue of gratitude to God. St. Francis de Sales encourages Christians in An Introduction to the Devout Life to focus on God within one’s heart and pray throughout the day during one’s daily occupations. Thanking God for His gifts is something that we can easily do as we pray internally to Him. For example, as I make dinner I can thank God for the gift of food, an income to buy the food, and a kitchen to cook it in. I can also be thankful that my worries are not about whether or not we will have food, but what size kitchen the new house will have. Setting aside time for prayer to thank God for His gifts at the beginning and end of the day is another way we can thank Him. Start the day with a simple morning offering and end the day with another prayer of thanksgiving. Thanking God before and after meals also builds our gratitude. When we take the time to thank God it is not as easy to get caught up in our “first world problems” without being properly thankful to God.
Speaking of first world problems, another way we can show God our gratitude is to give of our abundance. One of the things the Church encourages us to do during Lent is to give alms. Giving alms helps us to recognize that we are blessed, but that also there are others who need what we have more than we do. There are many organizations that collect money to provide food for those in poor countries. Another way to give alms is to donate food to a food pantry or clothes to an organization that helps those in need, or just put more than usual in the collection basket on Sunday at Church.
A further way to develop a habit of gratitude is to take care of the things that we do have. Instead of seeking always the newest and the nicest, we can be excellent stewards of our goods. Maintaining our homes, appliances, cars, and other goods is a way of honoring God and thanking Him for the goods He has blessed us with.
There are so many ways to be thankful to God for our blessings and overcome vices that make us unhappy and take us away from union with God. When we have proper gratitude to God, we also grow in our love of Him. We come closer to realizing fully how truly dependent we are on God for all that we have, especially our very existence.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” –Matthew 6:25-33