Amigos de Jesús Family Values ~ Gratitude

By Clay Matthews

Amigos de Jesús Volunteer — February 2018-July 2019

"Gracías Se­ñor, por un día mas de vida."

Anyone who comes to Amigos and eats with the kids will certainly hear this to begin the pray before our meals. In English it translates to, "Thank you Lord, for another day of life." That very short and very simple line opens most every prayer at Amigos.

Because of its simplicity it is easy to overlook, but in life it is the simple things that are usually the most profound. It is this prayer that I want to pause on, and when meditating on how gratitude is lived out at Amigos, this short little prayer has much for us to think about. 

The kids are our best teachers of being grateful for the present moment.

The kids are our best teachers of being grateful for the present moment.

The striking part of this prayer, "thank you, Lord for another day of life," is the fact that I don't think I myself have ever prayed that prayer, nor do I think I have ever heard it prayed while living in the States.

There are probably several reasons for that, but it fundamentally comes down to the fact that many of us in the States never needed to question that tomorrow won't come.

Most all of us have enough clothes for the next day, have enough food for weeks, and always have a roof over our heads.

Sadly, our kids at Amigos have lived lives where not all of those necessities of life are a given for the next day. Sometimes none of those essentials were a given for the next day.

As sad as that is, the kids now live in a home where they get three meals a day, have clothes, have a bed, and have a roof over their heads.

I have no idea what it could possibly feel like to come from a background where life necessities are a question mark, but I know for a fact that the kids are better at being grateful for the here and now, for the current day, than I could ever be. Because of their backgrounds, they know just how precious each passing moment is because they know how fragile life really is.

Gratitude is not only seen in that small little prayer at Amigos, but in most actions from the kids. Primarily, this comes through the generosity of the kids. The kids are some of the most generous humans I have ever met in my life.

Though they have so little, they are always willing to give whatever they have to someone else. Whether that be their small bag of chips, some of their fresco, or even their own special toy or trinkets - they are willing to give it away to someone else.

But how is generosity connected to thankfulness? When meditating on thankfulness, how do the generous actions of the kids reveal how truly thankful they are?

Back from an errand to buy ingredients for Sunday lunch!

Back from an errand to buy ingredients for Sunday lunch!

As I stated above, the kids have come from backgrounds where the next day is never a given. They understand the frailty of life, and how each day is indeed a gift from God.

When someone is truly aware of the gift of life itself, then the things one possesses don't hold such a strong connection to happiness. Of course, everyone needs "things," like food, clothes, shelter, but everything after that is simply excess. The kids finally have a safe environment where those are provided, so anything after that is extra.

They, of course, are happy to receive nice things, but that is never a primary source of happiness. Their happiness is rooted in the fact that they have life, and they have people who love and care for them.

That is why it is never uncommon for kids to receive gifts and immediately start sharing them with their friends. They are happy for their gift, but they also are perfectly happy giving it away for the happiness of someone else.

What a revelation this was for me.

Coming from a culture where our worth is rooted in the things we have, and we are perpetually bombarded by a culture where the only way we can be happy is by having the newest and the best, seeing this generosity was a breath of fresh air for me. Rather than inordinately clinging to our stuff as our source of happiness, we should have a healthy detachment from them.

There is nothing wrong with having things, but we must realize they are never a means to happiness. If we can begin to be thankful for each day, for each passing moment, and the pure gift of life from God, then we will begin to properly order our lives and begin to be more generous. We will be more generous with our time, our food, our things, and we will enter into a deeper reality of love and charity.        

“The Lord Jesus is the best thing that we can have.”

“The Lord Jesus is the best thing that we can have.”

Of course, Christ didn't want us to be grateful for today because we have experienced tremendous pain in our past. Unfortunately, that is the reality of our kids. But we have two options on how to deal with our pasts. We can hold them with anger and contempt, and let our hearts be hardened; or we can let the pain go and see the glory of Christ's resurrection in every moment.

Rather, He wants us to rely solely on His providence. The will of God is only available to us in the current moment. When we are thankful for each passing moment then we are better able to see the abundant opportunities to love others around us.  

Christ, during His Sermon on the Mount, commands us all to "not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthews 6:34 NRSV). How does this injunction from Christ relate to the prayer above? Because when we are only able to think about the future and worry about what is to come, then we are never able to be fully present to the blessings that are available to us in the present moment.

Many times we see the current day, and our current responsibilities, as getting in the way of our ideal life in the future. When we aren't thankful for the current moment, then we will never be thankful for the future to come.