Fighting back with Praise and Gratitude

“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.” Etty Hillesum, Letters from Westerbork

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl


The other day I was watching an old Frost television interview with Desmond Tutu. He said that after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and before the first general election in South Africa, was a very dangerous time for the country. Nelson Mandela, who was held in very high esteem by many people but was looked upon with suspicion by others, was preaching reconciliation, but there seemed to be, as Tutu described it, “a third force”: a potential power of violence and destruction that threatened to undermine and overwhelm the whole country. In the end, Mandela’s stature: his determination, courage and personal actions of reconciliation seemed to win the day. Without him no one knows what might have happened.

I was interested in the Archbishop’s description of “a third force.” I have heard it used before, although not in those words, by others – people like the pacifist writer, Walter Wink, who describes how a new personality can seem to take over a crowd, so that individuals who would never dream that they were capable of violence, can perform the most atrocious acts together. Wink points out that we have seen this happen throughout history, again and again.

As we look at the news at the moment many of us feel bewildered at the upturn in violence and the extent of it, appalled at the stories of suffering, and helpless in the face of it. It is as if an evil third force has taken over in some places and its darkness overshadows and undermines all of us. How can we fight the darkness outside so that it does not take over our spirit and overwhelm us, too?

It may seem a selfish and even superficial response in the light of all that we hear and see in the news of other peoples’ suffering, but one way to fight is to encourage a sense of gratitude in our hearts, which in turn leads to praise, thanksgiving and joy. Today is the first day of the rest of your life and this day is the gift God gives you – not yesterday, that is finished, not tomorrow for we do not yet know what it will bring, but today, this day is the gift of God. Can we see it? Can we receive even a little of what God wants to give us? Even on the days when we feel really grey we can thank God for food in our stomachs, a roof over our heads and safety – things that many people do not have.

You have to work at gratitude. We are not, for the most part naturally grateful or thankful. We are much better at moaning and complaining. “Count your blessings,” is an old saying, and a wise one, for as we count them our hearts are warmed and we are blessed. A genuine love grows in us for the people and things of the world, God’s world, and also a strength and faith. People who have been terribly cruelly treated have much to teach us about gratitude, praise and joy even in the midst of extreme suffering. Etty Hillesum, quoted at the top of this blog, wrote from the Westerbork Transit camp in Holland before being transported to Auschwich. Anne Frank was also to pass through. Both these young women determinedly fought fear and darkness by turning to the light and giving thanks. St Paul, quoted below, did the same when he wrote from prison his marvellous epistle full of joy and thanksgiving to the church at Ephesus. This is the way to fight back against the darkness – with the light and life of gratitude, praise and thanksgiving.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.     Ephesians 3: 18, 19