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Reform Magazine | December 1, 2023

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On the pilgrim way: “Why can’t I just be simply thankful?”

maxeySheila Maxey asks why it is hard to be thankful for good health

I am surprised – even a little shocked – that I am finding it difficult to be unreservedly thankful when I have every reason to be so. My husband, after months and months of limited walking and considerable balance problems accompanied by endless tests and waiting for results, seems to have got much better. No diagnosis, no good reason for the improvement, yet, instead of simply rejoicing, I notice I have written “‘seems’ to have got much better” and “‘no good reason’ for the improvement”. Why can’t I just be simply thankful?

Part of the problem is the sadness around me. A friend and I have been sharing concerns about our husbands’ health for many months. Now, her husband has a cancer diagnosis just as my husband’s health is much improved. Our daughter-in-law’s beloved aunt died unexpectedly, two weeks after her mother had a major stroke. My favourite German cousin has had both a stroke and a heart attack. Part of me expects them to respond to my news with a bitter: “It’s all right for some,” but that is to seriously insult all these good people. All of them have, in fact, been cheered by our good news. The problem is actually not their sadness or suffering but my false guilt at being so blessed.

I have also to admit that fear plays its part – fear of being too happy, too thankful. I am sure this is rooted in superstition, in a deep-seated human belief in a spiteful god/fate which I really, really do not believe in. Yet, good Christian friends (jokingly?) touch wood when telling me some good news, or even whisper that it is actually several weeks since she (usually she!) had a dizzy turn. It is as if some spiteful power might be listening and would promptly give her another dizzy turn. Do I, subconsciously, share some of these views?

There is also the fear that the improvement in my husband’s health might only be temporary. But then why not enjoy this present gift and live as if it is going to last? I have taken myself in hand on this matter and am planning holidays for the rest of this year.

Thankfulness in the midst of truly dark times is somehow much purer, as if the darkness makes the blessings shine even more intensely. I well remember driving my nephew with complete kidney failure to hospital as the sun was setting and how he delighted in the amazing sky. I think he thought he might not see another. A dear friend died in the hospice last autumn and I noticed how her face lit up with such pure delight when we visited and talked over past times.

However, in my ordinary daily life, it is a simple thankful heart which I seek – with no ifs or buts. The poet, George Herbert, has the wonderful phrase “heaven in ordinary”. Perhaps my prayer should be for “thankfulness in ordinary”.

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform


This article was published in the March 2016 edition of  Reform.

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