Q: I am deeply grateful for the many opportunities that God has given me to enjoy life to the full. At the same time, it saddens me to see so many people in our world who have not had the same opportunities to thrive. How can we fully appreciate our many blessings without feeling guilty? — Maureen, Georgia

A: That’s an important question for us to keep reconsidering, Maureen. It is not a question with a simple answer that puts a “stop” on it and then we put it away; it’s one that needs to resonate in the heart.

Gratefulness is at the core of the answer, because your compassion for people who are not thriving is something for which to be grateful. It gives you the opportunity to look at what you might be able to adjust in your life in order to be an agent of peace in the world at this time. That is why it is an important question to reconsider: because our lives keep changing, and there may be more opportunities with each new day. By taking in the suffering in your prayers, breathing out mercy and help; or by giving to a non-profit that’s giving direct help on the ground; or by changing your vocation in some way so that you are of direct help, you can avail yourself of these opportunities.

You mention at the end about appreciating our blessings without feeling guilty. Guilt doesn’t necessarily help anything, but guilt can be a key to our need to take action or to orient our lives so that they’re more and more in tune with a stream of caring and of helping to heal suffering in ourselves and others. When you feel that experience of guilt, being able to think about “What can I do? What is this an opportunity for?” – that is where the gratefulness lies on that side of the spectrum. And then as long as you have the gratefulness in place for that healing-of-suffering part, then you can return to all those blessings for which you are immediately grateful, the things that you enjoy, where you can say right off, “Of course I am grateful for that!” It is natural to fully appreciate those blessings, and you can also apply gratefulness in the arena of compassion.

With warm best wishes,