The trouble with you is that you are never grateful,’ was the heartfelt challenge from parent to child overheard by us all drinking coffee in a Windsor shop. As I looked out of the window I wondered how I might have responded to the accusation. Are we grateful?
How do we express gratitude? Gratitude, thankfulness, or appreciation is an acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. We express it when we receive help from others: time listening to our concerns. We articulate it when someone shows they care; a meal shared in friendship. We see it when someone goes out of their way to demonstrate their kindness; looking after our children when we need some time.
If the Christian life is understood as a journey then we need some core essentials in our back pack that both assist on our journey and keep us in touch with the heart of Christian living. Gratitude supports this discovery and we are brought alive as we express it in the ordinary. In all of our worship with we find space to thank God for the sheer wonder of creation and the love given to us in Jesus. We are a grateful people sustained by God and this gratitude permeates our religious texts, prayers and teachings, (see Psalm 92:1-2; Colossians 3:15-17). God gave us a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have we used one to say “thank you?” Gratitude can defend against isolation, pride and greed, and it opens us to interconnectedness, humility and fulfilment.
God is working the salvation of the world through us. It’s our job and gratitude is part of what we need for the task. For every material blessing we have received, for the gift of talent or health or home or a kind and loving spirit, for the good news of the love of God in Jesus Christ…whatever it is, we were given that blessing in order that we might use it to bless others. It’s the basic lesson we learned in school. Share. One toy lovingly and willingly shared creates community. One toy hoarded creates tears and temper tantrums.
In Christian gratitude, we know God to be the selfless giver of all good things. Our common bond is one of indebtedness. Christian gratitude is a virtue that shapes our emotions and thoughts but actions and deeds as well. Gratitude can make us more whole: happier and wiser Christians. How?
Let us see how the affirmation of the centrality of gratitude relates to our living. Here are five areas of our lives that might provide a starting point for the nurture of thankful and gracious living.
First, give thanks for the material goodness. This might mean saying a prayer (aloud or silently) before meals for your food. Our lives depend on the richness of God’s bounty and the host of people who grew, processed, distributed, prepared and served our food. In this physical nourishment we delight in the source of all life.
This goodness is reflected in the wonder and beauty of creation. I remember stepping out of a car in north east Scotland to take a closer look at the most incredible rainbow I have ever seen. It was bursting with vivid colour. In moment like these we can feel deeply connected to the goodness of our earth. Open your eyes and be ready for surprise and delight.
Second, give thanks for your relationships. Our community of faith is an important part of the influence that places and people have had on our journey of faith. Remember those people who started us on our adventure of discipleship or the person who stayed with us when the going was tough. God has done much for us through these people. The time and care taken by the priest over a funeral. The children’s leader who helps make faith real and fun. The preacher who gave us a word at the right time. The choir that carries us deeper with their music.
All of us are the recipient of many acts of kindnesses. We should continue to express our thanks for the people closest to us, our families and friends, and even our pets. These people and the things we share are a gift from God. Sometimes it is easy to overlook and express the blessings that we share with others, especially when we often are over preoccupied with the imperfections of love and our daily capacity to make mistakes. Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. This does not mean evading the complexities of living. We can give thanks for our relationships and we know love to be always good even when it is entwined with our humanity and fallen-ness.
Third, we live generously when we express our gratitude. When did we last say thank you?! Try saying thank you to these people this weekend. Look at the person and express your gratitude to the shop assistant, the postman but especially to your work colleagues.
Thank you notes can become a way of practising gratitude: of putting into words the truth of our belonging to one another. As we write our thanks we can be weaned away from these myth of entitlement and the arrogance and isolation of independence. Think about the small things that have made a difference and express your course of thanks.
Four: Give Thanks When Things Go Wrong. Of course if you are reading this thinking that your life is a mess, or that things have gone wrong, love has gone sour, or you are living in emotional or physical pain then giving thanks is perhaps furthest away from your thoughts. How can we give thanks when everything is horrible? However unfortunate these times are they are part of the complete picture of life. There is often something new to learn, a habit or attitude to change. We can see the kindness of those who listen and care in a different and more appreciative light. At these times we know ourselves to be fragile and dependent. Dependence is not the dirty word we have sometimes made of it, but merely the simple pattern and the plain truth about life especially when it is difficult.
Five: Always end the day with a positive thought! Perhaps grateful people can sleep better because they cultivate a perspective that does not allow negativity to infect ourselves and others.
Gratitude is deeply relational, which is why developing this virtue protects us from a sense of creeping isolation. These ten steps show us that we all have something to be grateful for. Life is the precious gift we receive from the moment of our birth. There may very well be a lot going wrong in our lives. However practising gratitude can help us celebrate the worth of receiving life, love, insight and nurture in us a feeling of deep connectedness? All we need to create a more fulfilling life by seeing what we already have. When we look carefully and acknowledge what we do have, we may surprise ourselves and find more than we expected.
We do this because it reminds us that God is God, and because it is our responsibility to thank God for the good things He has given us. It is also good for us. It helps us to refocus our minds which are so often fixated on what we want or need, and it reminds us of the good things that are already happening, of the wonderful ways in which God already showers love and goodness on us and of the blessings that are already ours. Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.