Let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.Hebrews 13:15
Why is gratitude so difficult? With all the suffering and misfortune in the world, we should be acutely aware of how blessed we are. This should inspire gratitude, generosity, and praise to the Creator, but often it leads to possessiveness, jealousy, and mistrust. We are so accustomed to our prosperity that we sometimes believe we have earned God’s blessings. From there, it is a small step to a sense of entitlement: that we are somehow owed happiness.
Despite countless blessings in my own life, I am a veteran complainer. Often I recognize my blessings, but struggle to manage them until I feel buried. Money and possessions, work and travel, future plans and daydreams—aspects of my life that other people long for—feel like too much to handle. And yet I want more: more space, more comfort, more money, more time to enjoy it all.
If I can’t enjoy what I have, how will enjoy more?
Ordinarily I enter Lent with big plans and aspirations, then struggle to follow through. It’s not a bad thing to stretch myself, especially if it trains me in self-denial and humility. But this year, I lowered the bar, figuring that if my sacrifices were too easy, God would nudge me in the direction I needed to go. And He has.
Shortly before Lent, I felt moved to begin praying Liturgy of the Hours again—just Morning and Evening Prayer—as a way of consecrating my day to God. Then I began reading a series of Lenten reflections on specific psalms that my son Gabe has written for his blog, Stand Against Goliath. Both of these things have inspired a greater desire to praise God for the many gifts and blessings He is pouring out for me every day.
Certain psalms (e.g., Psalm 50 and Psalm 116) call us to offer to God a sacrifice of praise. The more I’ve thought about that curious phrase, the more it has intrigued and inspired me. I have always encountered God in the His creation—the cosmos, the seasons, the vast variety of living creatures all over the earth—and our own participation in it. Often when something good or beautiful strikes my eye or touches my heart, I will speak the words, “Praise God,” briefly acknowledging the One who is responsible for all the good that I enjoy.
This is praise, in a small way—but how can that become a sacrifice? Each time I encounter God in my life, should I fall to my knees, raise my hands, and cry out to Him with joy and thanksgiving? Should I risk ridicule, ignore my calendar, and disrupt traffic in order to give myself entirely to Him in return for the blessings of this moment?
Perhaps I should. But the truth, it seems to me, is much simpler.
I am not “all that”—I may think highly of myself from time to time, but the truth is, I’m weak and inclined to be self-centered and ungrateful. So each time I act against that tendency even in a small way (e.g., saying “Praise God!” for a beautiful sunset, a sip of good beer, or the sight of a pileated woodpecker), it is a sacrifice of praise. Each time I recognize the good that graces my life and that I have not earned, I am dying to myself in a small way.
Each time I look past the gift to thank the Giver, I grow in humility and holiness. And that is no small thing—praise God!
This post appeared as a column in the March 19, 2023, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.