My eight year old son David is a spirited, ebullient, goofy kid. You may not be able to see it in the picture, but the sign he’s holding up says “Wanted.” There’s more truth in that than he knows.

His life is a testament to the fact that Christian gratitude poses an enormous challenge. The fact that he’s here at all is a miracle. I’ll spare you all the details, but David had serious medical problems at birth, and to this day is immunodeficient. If his temperature goes above 100 degrees, we head to the nearest emergency room. Bacterial infections can be nasty for most people, but they can take him down.

Kathi and I are grateful for each day we have with David, since we have never taken his presence for granted. You’ve heard people ask whether couples want a boy or a girl, and often the response is that it doesn’t matter, so long as the baby is healthy, right? David taught us that every child is a gift. We wanted him – regardless of his “imperfections.”

Kathi and I have learned a great deal about Christian gratitude during David’s short life through scripture, prayer, and reflection. Here are just a couple aspects that stand out:

1. Psalm 107:1 says “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his kindness endures forever!” This verse reminds me in stark terms of the eternal nature of God’s goodness. It also begins to explain the question of how a loving God can allow suffering on earth. Even serious suffering for many years begins to pale in comparison to the unfathomable, eternal happiness of heaven. That doesn’t make our suffering any easier, but it sure gives it purpose.

2. One of my favorite scripture passages is Romans 5:3-4, “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope…” Other translations, instead of “boast of our afflictions” speak of “joy in tribulations.” Can you imagine? Being joyful in difficulties? What about gut-wrenching, profound difficulties? We’re supposed to be joyful? Seriously? This is obviously a huge challenge, and one that only makes sense if the spiritual life is real, and so real that it actually transcends our physical, here-and-now reality.

3. In the book of Acts, we find some of the Apostles being hauled in front of the Sanhedrin, who “had them flogged, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.” (Acts 5:40) Now here’s the incredible part: Acts 5:41 “So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” Can you believe that? They were rejoicing. After being flogged. That wouldn’t have made their suffering any easier, but it gave it purpose. Sound familiar?

4. Here’s the scriptural zenith. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” It makes clear one of the practical challenges of our faith – giving thanks in all circumstances. On good days, on bad days. When we’re happy, when we’re cranky. Regardless of circumstances, stage of life, state of relationships, health, employment status, socio-economic conditions, you name it. Even when our cat just died. We got a speeding ticket. Our team lost.

Christian gratitude is a natural response to true, abiding faith in God. It is also deeply interconnected with the joy that flows from recognizing what we have, and being thankful. Contrast this with when we have a disordered focus on what we don’t have – which breeds discontent and misery.

David, since before he was even born, has been an extraordinary gift to our family. Through his difficulties, our family was drawn closer together in ways we never could have anticipated. A reason for gratitude, indeed.

Through our faith in Christ, we can always be grateful for the ultimate gift we have been given – our Lord himself. So sublime is this gift, that we are challenged to give thanks even when all hell is breaking loose around us. I have been working on this for years, praying prayers of gratitude through all circumstances – even the illness of a child. Sometimes I do better than others. When David is sick, it’s a formidable challenge. Yet as we say at every Mass, “it is right to give him thanks and praise.”

Please join me in prayers of gratitude to our gracious God, gratitude that transcends our emotions and circumstances. Also, if you could throw an extra one in for David, Kathi and I sure would appreciate it. He just got back from the emergency room.