Monday, June 3, 2013

The challenge to be truly grateful for everything in life

It is relatively easy to be thankful with a heart filled with gratitude for life’s large blessings that come our way through the grace of God.  A job promotion, a salary increment, a new born member into the family, a windfall, good news of a clean bill of health from the doctor, and success in its myriad forms.  As Jesus stated in the scriptures, “even Pharisees do as much”, though there may be very few real Pharisees in our times. 

But interspersed between these obvious moments of blessings when ‘angels’ visit us, there are also many other moments when life gives us many other challenges and we are faced with the pains and struggles of life and its relationships.  That’s when just the opposite happens to us – when we may lose our job, when someone we love and cherish meets with illness and dies, when we suffer a huge loss in our investments, when a natural disaster strikes, when our doctor gives us a diagnosis of a malignant tumor, when we suffer some form of failure and dejection or when a loved one betrays us, leaving us wounded and limping.  At these moments which Richard Rohr would label as ‘liminal space’ moments (from the Latin word ‘limen’ meaning threshold), many end up cursing God and foe, and perhaps ‘punish’ God by leaving the Church and stop praying altogether.  As a priest, it is so common to hear this happening from family members of such wounded people (usually mothers of children who no longer go to Sunday Eucharist), or as a lament from the very people themselves, often with a spirit of cynicism that can be easily detected from a sarcasm-laced critical attitude when speaking of God and religion.  Of course, if the Church had been a cause for scandal and reproach due to her own weak and sinful actions of the members of the Church or clergy, justice needs to be meted and wounds help to be healed.  But what if the suffering and pain has little or nothing to do with someone or some institution with regard to the suffering?  What if the suffering is part of life, which is God’s great gift to us?  Do we still become grateful?  How in the world do we do that?  Would we be labeled as die-hard masochists if we are grateful for life’s challenges and crosses?

A good friend of mine was just diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid recently, and in my conversation with her, I was quietly delighted to hear her say that she sees that cancer is a blessing from God.  Her positive attitude in life and toward God reveals a great trust and reliance on God whom she has a very real relationship with. Her family is still struggling to accept this piece of news, and that is to be expected perhaps because no two people can ever be at the same level of spirituality and spiritual growth as it is a very individual thing.  It is our spiritual preparation in life comprising  our daily prayer life, discipline and walk with God that often determines our ability to live with hands that are outstretched in gratitude for every little thing in life that comes our way, good or bad.  When we cannot live in this positive way, we only injure ourselves further by the two “C’s” which never lead to growth and maturity – Complain and Compare.

When we think that life has to be ‘fair’ and smooth sailing, and when we have expectations to be met – of God, of our families, of friends, of acquaintances, and others, we are setting ourselves for a hard time in life.  This is especially so when we have one eye constantly cast on the lives of others with the other on our own, and complain to God that life is unfair.  Little do we realize that when we do that, we are often mixing up God with life.  In one of his writings, American spiritual author Philip Yancey quotes a very deeply spiritual man whom he interviewed as saying that many confuse God with life.  He says “we tend to think that life should be fair because God is fair.”  But God is not life, and if we confuse God with the physical reality of life, by expecting good health and all its benefits, we are setting up ourselves for great disappointment.  This was coming from a person who went through great struggles and tragedies in life.  Yancey calls him a modern day Job.
James Finley, a former Trappist Monk, who was in the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemani Kentucky with Thomas Merton, says that “when we come to fork roads in life, there are two possibilities that face us, or two options that we can take.  We can choose to go deep, or we can choose to despair.”  What wise words.  Oftentimes, the latter is chosen more out of fear and desperation than out of a free choice.  But when one has been given a special grace by God, or when one has been quietly preparing oneself by maintaining and developing a strong relationship with God, one can take that bold step to go deep.  And it is in the depths of one’s being in tune with God’s Being that gives one begins to develop a grateful spirit no matter what happens. 

I just had a rather big disappointment last week with regard to my Leukemia journey that I’ve been on since the beginning of this year.  I was scheduled to receive a valuable gift – stem cells from a donor who has a perfect match with my stem cells was found by the Bone Marrow Donor Programme from Canada.  My doctor was very pleased with this 1 in 20,000 match, and I was supposed to get this gift sometime toward the end of June.  Last week, I was told that the donor had decided against the donation and for undisclosed reasons, was not proceeding with the arrangements. 

How did I take this piece of news?  I must say that I surprised myself.  I was and still am very calm about it.  I am certainly not angry about this change of decision of the donor.  She must have her reasons which I will respect as the prerogative to give her stem cells is totally hers.  That she signed on to be a potential donor in the first place shows that she was willing to give it a try.  Certainly, if she had completed the donation process and I received her stem cells for a hope of renewed life, I would be very grateful.  But would this not mean that my gratitude is conditional if I were to only be grateful for something completed and successful?  Didn’t Mother Theresa say that God doesn’t want success but faithfulness?  If our gratitude to others is only based on our measure of goodness and generosity, most people would fall short of getting our heartfelt thanks.  When God shows us his mercy, what makes his mercy so divine is that he steps into our shoes and sees our actions and decisions from our point of view before any judgment is made.  And when he asks that we be holy as he is holy, the command is that we try to do the same when dealing with others and their actions.  Sure this is hard, but it is not impossible. 

I may be disappointed, but I do not think that anyone owes us anything in life.  There are very few, if any, entitlements in life.  When we have that as our attitude towards others, we prevent ourselves from practicing gratitude.  We just don’t practice gratitude enough in our lives to become experts at doing it as part of our very being. I am a strong believer that the more we practice this, the more we will be able to be truly grateful for everything in life - even the disappointments that eventually teach us something about ourselves. 

So the search resumes by the Bone Marrow Donor Programme for another perfect match for my marrow and stem cell markers, and my marathon run of further lengthy and tiring chemotherapy sessions at the hospital continues, with the dreaded intrathecal injections, which I will try to receive with a growing heart that is being trained in living with gratitude and thanks.


  1. There was a period in my life that i cried out to the Lord that "i am Job and do whatever You want Lord. How bad can it get. i surrender."

    It is also during this period that God truly became my Father, Jesus my companion and Mary my Mother. i would not have exchanged those trials for anything, for in them, i found God, i know Him and over time, grow to love Him, albeit not as much as He loves me.

    Thank you frLuke for your steadfast love and trust and gratitude.


  2. Thank you Father, for this heartfelt and personal piece of sharing.

    While I may not be at that phase of spritual development where I rather immediately and unquestioningly embrace life's curved balls as blessings from God, I find that it helps to view it as God's message that from this disappointment, I need to grow and develop into a more godly and whole person to face the crisis-the way He means for me to be. The journey is often made bearable by prayer and guradian angels (in the form of encouragement from friends and sometimes, total strangers). And I have invariably come to realise that I have been gifted with so many of His graces and mercy during the journey that I am truly humbled and grateful for the trigger event in the first place.

    God Bless you, Father - and thank you for keeping up with this blog so faithfully. I always look forward to your weekly insightful writings of how our Faith should be interpreted and practised.


  3. Fr Luke, I couldn't help tearing after reading your latest post. Was so happy when I heard a donor was found and now ... I hope God will remove all fears and doubts from this donor and encourage her to honor her commitment till the very end. Hope she is reading your blog so she knows you are a very much loved priest and her brave deed is deeply appreciated by all of us in Singapore.

  4. Dearest Fr Luke,

    I supposed there are no good words that can express your current situation, and the unexpected twist of events. But I am encouraged by your courage, faith and trust in the Lord. With God, when one door closes, let's us pray and trust that another door will open, to open ASAP. But all is in His perfect timing.

    Praying with you.


  5. Dear Fr Like,

    TRUST in our good Lord! Let Him take charge!!!

    My mum always tells us "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be(with God's grace)." If not, God forbids. For whatever reasons only He knows what's best for us. Like what Miranda said, when 1 door closes, God opens another - something even more beautiful!

    God loves you. Always.

  6. Dear Fr Luke

    Thank you for your most inspiring blog which allows us to journey with you and in the process learn and strengthen our faith. The news about the donor came as a big blow for many of us. You appear to have done a much better job handling that rejection than we did. You seem to be coping with this difficult journey in a somewhat unreal way. You have shown strength, courage, faith, humour and acceptance when it is humanly not really possible to do. I can only assume that it's God's strength that is driving you.
    For me on the side lines, your journey is akin to watching someone take part in a gruelling iron man completion except that all he relies on is Faith. As a supporter, I keep cheering you on with much fear and trepidation, always looking to see where the finishing line is. Ironically, or should I say, thankfully, you the participant do not seem concerned about the finishing line but rather the journey. What is strange is that as supporters, we appear to be drawing strength from you...trying also to learn that where the finishing line is, does not really matter.

    Love, mike

  7. Dear Fr Luke Fong

    Your unwavering faith is awesome.I am very happy to see your grounded n rooted faith.

    Circumstances might not be in our favour but if God is for us who can be against us.

    Beside our Lord'sPrayer " Our Father in Heaven,Holy be Your Name.Your Kingdom come your will be down on Earth as in Heaven" gives me boldness to proclaim healing on you.

    In the bible Jesus heals everyone..the blind,deaf n mute.Even the woman with blood issue got healed by her faith.

    Therefore you are healed.The Lord is already working even circumstances does not look favourable..withdrawal from donor.

    If God is for us who canbe against us.Mountains wll be moved.

    Just to share with you.

    A few days ago my friend (deaf) was miraculously healed in a healing session.

    Therefore Fr ,you shall see the manifestation for His mercy endures forever

    Yes Heaven will open His floodgates

    Peace be with youFr Luke Fong

  8. So many times you had preached about doing the things that bring pleasures to God, about living our lives that will delight God ...remembering also that poem you shared about us doing the little things and "God smiles and likes what he see". I have often wondered if this is possible, to delight God when we are suffering.

    Psalm 14:2 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who are wise, who want to please him.” And I am sure he is smiling today and takes delight in what he sees.

    God is smiling because you love and trust him completely. Despite the unfortunate turn of event, you chose to obey God wholeheartedly, found a way to thank God and to receive this news with grace.

    Indeed Father Luke, I have found that it is possible to find delight in God even when one is in the worst of circumstances. Thank you for being the faithful priest that you are. In your suffering, you continue to transform the minds of the faithful. God love you.

  9. The peace & grace of the Lord is with you & your friend, thank you both for your witness of faith. Thanks also for teaching me to be non-judgmental & to shed off sense of entitlement. When we are non-judgmental, we try to understand it is her perogative & there is nothing to forgive.

    Your message of gratitude reminds me of St Francis' praise & gratitude in "canticle of the sun" & the Poverello's counter-intuitive definition of 'perfect joy'. From "St Francis & the Cross: reflections on suffering weakness & joy" by R Cantalamessa & C Martini (odd pairing of authors!:)

    "I have waited, waited for the Lord, & He stooped toward me & heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp. He set my feet upon a crag, he made firm my steps. And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. Many shall look on in awe & trust in the Lord." Ps 40:2-4

    Shalom! An Anthonian

  10. Dearest Fr. Luke,

    As I read reflections from many insightful spiritual writers (you included), they all had something in common, that is - life experiences that made them who they are, in achieving their total reliance on God. A virtue that is so hard –won and not at all for the weak-hearted.

    Ability to see trials as opportunities for growth is wisdom. Gratitude, in embracing trials that comes along with hidden blessings, is grace.

    Thank you Fr. Luke, for being an inspiration by embracing your cross with hard-won wisdom, bravery and patience. Showing by example how to be more Christ-like. ;}

    You are always in my daily prayers.

    Cheering you on,

  11. This morning , the opening words of the celebrant at mass, “ Rejoice in the Lord, rejoice!” startled me to full wakefulness for it was followed by his exhortation to contemplate on “the wounded heart of Jesus, bleeding for love of us...........”. We were celebrating the Solemnity of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus but I felt it was a strange though novel way of knocking all remaining traces of sleep from our eyes! However, on reflection- (with the day’s readings,) it is obvious that we cannot do anything but thankfully rejoice, take a delight and joy – for we have a God ,so personal - as to have his heart wounded for love of us – saints and sinners alike. Moreover, we cannot but rejoice because we have been surprised into gratitude.
    Sometimes, we are tempted to believe that in our present situation/lives, we lack something essential, which if we were to have, would make all things go better – such as if I had good health I would be able to pray better, or if I had some special gifts, virtue I would be able to accomplish something beautiful for God..........and so like you said we may be tempted to compare and complain - for it seems that we have so many needs and so many exterior circumstances to change. If we carry it to the extreme, we may even end up forgetting to live!

    However, what you have shared shows that you have happily given carte blanche to God to act as He deems fit though this complete “abandonment” may baffle the wisdom of man. It comes from a certitude that we read in Romans 8:28 and 8:18. In the lives of the Saints, we see that God permits suffering........sometimes leaving them deprived or wanting of certain things in this life,......... what we sometimes termed ‘essentials’ but in today’s reading we are assured that one thing Indispensable will always be there for them and us - and that is His Presence.........Ezekiel 34:11-16..... “I shall rescue them.....during the mist and darkness....’’ and of course in the favourite Psalm 23

    Gratitude is a grace and a virtue but it is only when one is ready to open one’s heart to the heart of Jesus that it can be rooted and grow and be a blessing to all who come in contact.

    God bless you, Fr

  12. Dear Father,

    Thank you very much for this post. It makes me reflect on my life and how I should teach my children. Indeed, we should get rid of our attitude of "entitlement" and be more grateful for the things we have rather than focus on those we do not have. It will make us more contented and happy.

    Take care and God Bless!