In one of the quotes of the great Roman philosopher Cicero, he mentioned that, “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” That idea intrigues me. Gratitude is a virtue like kindness, loyalty, humility, forgiveness, honesty, trust and compassion, but what makes gratitude the greatest--the parent?
I ponder a successful parent’s performance. I watch the example of my daughter and my two granddaughters-- born 16 months apart and I imagine her trundling and them toddling and the sampler of virtues that she personifies in her everyday parenting. In the space of one Face-time conversation, she is charitable with the one who wakes angry, compassionate to the teether, forgives the biter, exemplifies patience with the freeze-tag-hide and seeker, and she does it all with kindness and a cheerful demeanor.
The responsibility of parenting has made her different—it has refined. Successful parenting demands that we refine our virtuous selves. Each virtuous attribute we strive to attain offers a challenge, and requires mental and at times physical submission. Each builds on another, kindness, forgiveness, patience, compassion—each demands the tampering of flaws and tempering of the natural being and if successful, refines us to a higher mind, to deeper thought and to responsible communal action. That is what a parent hopes for, through all of her own efforts—to raise virtuous progeny.
It may seem simplistic, but in a drought of gratitude, none of the other virtues can flourish. Each becomes burdened by all-consuming self-ness of pride. Patience becomes a matter of willpower, humility is demeaning, forgiveness is granted spitefully, compassion is condescending, and kindness becomes mere tolerance.
My daughter uses gratitude as a simple-yet effective way to persist through the doldrums of daily effort. Not only because each of her days are filled with gratitude, “I’m just grateful I caught it before it was a bigger mess,” or “before she fell further,” “before she dumped all of it together,” “before it flushed,” “before it crashed,” and my personal favorite, “before it started on fire.” It’s a life that is filled with edge-walking excitement and she spends it grateful for tender mercies as she lives, “just in time.”
Gratitude can ennoble when one is supremely thankful for one’s circumstances. And when her day ends with, “I’m so grateful they are asleep!” it is because she has reached the apex of the challenges to her strength of will. She has bested a mortal body that has spent its day becoming refined by sacrifice and love unfeigned. And it is those parenting attributes that are what help us mere mortals begin to understand the penultimate virtue, Charity; the Pure Love of Christ.