Several years ago, I received a phone call from a dear friend who invited me to take a free shopping spree at Costco Wholesale Club. The offer was so tempting since anything and everything I would purchase that day would all be paid for. I was so floored by such a generous offer that I felt like one of those eager contestants who had just won the grand prize in “Supermarket Sweep.”
Before saying yes, I asked for some time to pray about my decision. Reason was telling me that it was okay to say yes but my heart begged our Lord and our Lady for the wisdom to be a wise steward of so generous a gift. After much prayer and discernment, I accepted the offer.
The day finally came and I was given one of those large flatbed carts that could hold a tremendous amount of stuff from the wholesale club. I quietly declined and opted for a regular shopping cart instead.
My friend led me down different aisles and showed me all the things I could ever want: electronics, clothes, books, appliances, and furniture. Yes, they were all there and ready for the taking.
While my first instinct was to buy things I would want, I decided to ask myself whether they were things I really needed. It was one of the most difficult tasks I ever had to do but I felt the Lord whisper in my heart to be content and grateful for all the things I already have.
The Beauty of Gratitude
The sixth principle of the simple life is instilling a spirit of gratitude. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we read, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In living in a spirit of gratitude, we not only learn to practice contentment but become closer to our Lord in the process.
1) Gratitude allows us to be more content
One of the natural effects of living in a spirit of gratitude is the practice of contentment.
The Book of Sirach reads, “be content with little or much.” Just as a poor man should not dream of gaining all the riches of the world, in the same token, a rich man should not desire to live in a small hut away from all the worries of the world. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read, “indeed, religion with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food or clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling in to temptation and into a trap and many foolish and harmful desire, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.”
In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we also read, “keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’”
2) Gratitude leads us closer to God
Living in a spirit of gratitude makes us ever aware of our Lord’s infinite goodness and love for us. In Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, we read “give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” The more grateful we are, the more we realize that the most beautiful thing we are to be thankful for is the gift of eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we read, “therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”
Seven Simple Steps
1. Be aware of those less fortunate
One good way to live in a spirit of gratitude is to be aware of the hardships and plight of our suffering brothers and sisters around the world. When we are more aware of the poverty around us, we become more thankful for gifts we typically take for granted. Read the article Poverty Awareness: The 4th Principle of the Simple Life.
2. Thank God in all things
As soon as you awake, thank God for giving you the gift of life for yet another day. Thank Him for the big things that are above and beyond our human comprehension: the gift of life, the gift of faith, and the gift of redemption. In Psalm 103, we read, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love.”
3. Instill gratitude at an early age
Teach children to always be grateful and content. Every night, remind them to thank the Lord for five blessings that they received that day. If they seem to have the constant desire to acquire, remind them to be thankful for five things they already have.
4. Give, give, give
Give your gift of time, talent and treasure to those in need. Encourage teens to volunteer at a soup kitchen or help out at a local thrift shop. When little ones want to keep acquiring things, encourage them to give to others first.
5. Be strengthened by Scripture
In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we read, “May all the wealth of Christ’s inspiration have its shrine among you… whatever you are about, in word and action alike, invoke always the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, offering your thanks to God the Father through him.” In His letter to the Corinthians we also read, “for who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!”
6. Be inspired by the Saints
St. Alphonsus Liguori once wrote: ‘But it was not so much the sorrows of his Passion which saddened and embittered the life of our Redeemer, as the sight of all the sins which men would commit after his death. These were the cruel executioners which made him live in continual agony, oppressed by such an overwhelming grief that pain alone would have been enough to make him die of pure sorrow. Father Lessius says that the sight alone of the ingratitude of mankind would have been sufficient to make Jesus Christ die of grief a thousand times.”
Our dear St. John Bosco also reminds us, “O my children, how great is Divine Providence! How generous God is to us! How much He loves us! Let us always be grateful and good! Let us love Him and never offend Him! In turn He will always provide for our needs.”
7. Slow down and breathe it all in
One of the books that has opened my heart to live in a spirit of gratitude is Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are”. This life changing book taught me to see God’s reflection in ALL the moments of my life. It taught me to slow down, to be present and to enjoy my children in every stage of life. It taught me to see the beauty of God in the ordinary – sunlight streaming through a window, wild flowers swaying in the wind or the beauty of an autumn sunset.
Gratitude Is Heavenly
Simple living teaches us to live in a spirit of gratitude and contentment. It allows us to live with a sense of indebtedness to God for His infinite love, mercy and generosity towards us.
My trip to Costco was an eye-opening experience. I ended up buying mostly food and household supplies as I thought about struggling families I could share with. However, I did end up buying things from my much dwindled want list: two dresses for my baby girl and a pair of dress slacks for my husband.
When we finally came to the checkout line, my friend asked, “Why didn’t you buy any of the big stuff? Why did you just choose to buy things that you needed?”
I didn’t answer right away. Little did my friend know that as I was walking down the aisles, my heart was inundated with a deep sense of indebtedness, not just for the generous gift at hand, but for everything else in life I had taken for granted.
I felt overwhelmingly indebted to my God, my Creator and my Redeemer: for the roof over my head, for food, water and clothing; for the gift of my marriage, my husband and my children; for a second chance at life after my illness, my family who helped me through it all and friendships that have endured throughout the years; for the gift of simple living so that I can stay home, teach my children and watch them grow up; for the gift of creation, the gift of faith and the gift of redemption.
Most importantly, I felt indebted to a generous God who suffered so much and died on the cross so that I may live eternally with Him in Heaven.
My friend asked me the same question one more time as we were strolling along the parking lot. Trying desperately to keep tears from flowing down my face, I smiled, looked up to the Heavens, and quietly whispered, “I chose to buy things that I need because, in all sincerity, I already have everything in life I could ever want.”