Before you stop reading this blog merely because you think during a time of pandemic and flu, earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires, political division and racial strife there is nothing to be grateful for — take heart!
Modern life often forces us to focus on what is bad – what needs to be fixed immediately, what crisis must be prevented, what new thing we need now to make our life better.
Learning to notice the good takes practice. Thankfully, every time we flex our gratitude muscle we get stronger. We get positive feedback – it feels good to be grateful. And we connect with God who is the source of all goodness.
We don’t need to look for big miraculous things to be grateful for. Jesus showed that gratitude can begin with very little.
On a day when it seemed like he and his friends wouldn’t have enough to eat, Jesus looked up to heaven and thanked God for the food they had (Mark 6:37-44). When Jesus did this, the little they had turned into an abundance and was readily shared.
The Psalms are filled with songs of praise , thanksgiving and gratitude! Giving thanks was part of every worship of the Hebrew people as it helped them remember their identity as beloved children of our Great God.
In the book of James we come to understand that gratitude is part of the very fabric of life and if you understand it in your heart you will be both a better person and do good in the world. This is all encompassing grace.
Many believe gratitude is a path to greater connection to God, others, the world and our own souls. 4 out of 5 Americans report feeling gratitude on a regular basis and yet they often say connecting this feeling to daily life practices is extremely hard to do.
The word gratitude and grace come from the same root word, gratia in Latin and kharis in Greek which means “unmerited favor”. Grace begets gratitude which in turn expands our hearts and allows more love to come in and transform how we see and experience the world.
Gratitude is a spiritual practice of seeing and celebrating the good in the world around us.
Back in the mid 90’s, I enjoyed a daily devotional book called Simple Abundance that helped me to develop the spiritual practice of journaling. I had kept a journal earlier in my life but this devotional really helped me move into a pattern of journaling gratefulness in my life by simply recording a list of 5 things I was thankful for each day. Some people call this counting your blessings and find it a helpful way of life despite your circumstances. When taking the time to write seems too stressful, merely making the list in your mind especially before bed is a good habit even if it means expressing thanks for a seemingly very small act of kindness . Ann Voskamp says it best: “When I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.”
Though I still subscribe to prayerfully listing what I am grateful for each day, I am also aware that sitting in gratitude without making a list is another spiritual practice that can help us ground ourselves in the present moment. Taking the time to be still and really feel gratitude is a gift we can give our souls. It takes us out of our constant looking forward, striving, reaching and pushing and helps us calmly and peacefully dwell in the now .
In her book Grateful: the Transformative Power of Giving Thanks author Diana Butler Bass writes in the epilogue that gratitude is a transformation and the path to a life giving society. She says that during the writing of her book she was sustained by a list of 10 habits from Mary Jo Leddy’s book Radical Gratitude. These habits can help us live with a life- giving spirit in a dispirited time and place such as this present time. Bass believes Leddy’s list is a hinge between personal and public practices of gratitude and can move us toward a place of gratitude that can transform us not only personally but as a community and world.
Here is her list:
1. Begin before you are ready.
2. Practice gratitude in prayers, reflections, chants and meditations.
3. Gather with like-spirited people. Find or start a group committed to gratefulness as a way of life.
4. Live more simply.
5. Look for good examples of grateful people in your life and from history. Learn from them.
6. Think with your heart.
7. See differently develop “soft eyes.”
8. Be connected to a longer wisdom tradition.
9. Find a beloved community – and be part of it, really be part of it.
10. Contemplate the face of the world- turn toward it.
Of course don’t feel you need to do all these things- Start with whatever inspires you and move toward what calls to you. Trust your unique path.
Beginning November 1 our church will engage in a 30 Days of Thankful journey via our church social media. We encourage you to join us in the journey either through Facebook/ Instagram or by printing these leaf cut-outs and adding things your are grateful for.
Each day in the journey will include a scripture/quote or song lyric of gratitude along with a journal prompt or reflection question. Let’s see what a life of individual and communal gratitude can do at FPC and hopefully in the greater Greensboro community. We would love for you to send us a picture of your thankful leaves to help us visualize the spirit and practice of gratitude!