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Posted by on Nov 25, 2015 in Blog | 2 comments

Gratitude

Gratitude

Over the past month there have been concerns about something abnormal in my heart. After numerous tests and doctors, I was told on Monday that there is nothing to worry about and that more invasive tests are not necessary at this time. You can imagine my relief! The following morning I awoke with a profound sense of gratitude and laid in bed, hand over my heart, aware of each healthy beat. Gradually, I became aware of my lungs and grateful for each breath of life-giving air. Gratitude spread over me: for my hands and feet, for my skin even with all its new wrinkles, for my eyes that see and my ears that hear.

Usually, I jump out of bed in the morning, ready for a new day, taking for granted that my body will perform what I need it to do. A sense of entitlement creeps in. I was convicted that morning about how rarely I stop to thank God for all the healthy parts of my body.

Often it takes something going wrong before we stop to notice all that is good and right with our world. Though painful, an accident or illness or disappointment can serve as a wake-up call. A grateful heart is essential for joy and inner growth. Where there is no gratitude, there is no hope. Like a weak immune system, a spirit without gratitude is left vulnerable to depression, cynicism, and a general dissatisfaction with everything and everyone.

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything God has given us – and He has given us everything! Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a gift of grace…Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.    Thomas Merton 

Intellectually this sounds simple enough. Good parents teach their children to say “thank you.” This is basic etiquette. We express appreciation when we receive a gift or a favor. But thankfulness is more than making a mental note of things God has done for us and then thanking Him for favors received.

Gratitude is tied to God’s grace. We are grateful when we realize that we have been given something undeserved. Thanksgiving comes in the very next moment, when the fullness of gratitude overflows. Gratitude is in the heart and thanksgiving is an expression of it, in words and in life.

When we come around the communion table as a church family, we come in response to God’s grace—in gratitude for the undeserved gift of salvation manifested in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. Eucharist means “thanksgiving” and is the ultimate Thanksgiving feast.

Our natural tendencies are to glide over good moments and recall the negative times. We need to train our brains to refocus and consciously linger on joy-filled moments. That’s why gratitude is considered a spiritual discipline. In gratitude, we wake up to the fact that life is all gift. Gratitude restores our sense of wonder. Gratitude slows us down, causes us to pay attention, to be mindful, to share a heightened sense of awareness.

St. Paul said, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess 5:16-18)

Give thanks in ALL things? Really? Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful even though you have considered all the facts.” Does God really mean for us to give thanks in the midst of our trials? How can we be genuinely grateful when we are confused, depressed, sick, worried about finances, or grieving a death or broken relationship?

As followers of Christ, we say “thank you” even while it’s painful, trusting that God will use our experiences to refine us, to make us “mature and complete.” It is a slow process, and results are difficult to see in the chaos and darkness. But we trust that God is indeed at work.

Our family has a tradition of going around the Thanksgiving table, inviting everyone to express something they are grateful for. It’s easy to name good health, career success, or accomplishments, but we often forget that some of our best gifts don’t always come wrapped with a pretty bow. I met a young man this weekend who credited an arrest and DUI conviction for turning his life around. When you’re asked, “What are you grateful for?” this Thanksgiving, dig deep and give thanks for both the good and the bad, the joys and the painful troubles.

At the end of their first brutally difficult year battling disease, famine, and death, the first American pilgrims still chose to prepare a feast and give thanks for God’s goodness. In the same way, the early Israelites celebrated and wrote psalms of thanksgiving, even while remembering their times of suffering. Expressions of honest complaint, anger, doubts, and longing are necessary in a healthy relationship with God. They open a path for God to heal our broken hearts. Gratitude becomes more authentic and faith is built every time we experience answers to our desperate prayers.

Psalm 107 is such a psalm of thanksgiving (see below.) Notice the four desperate experiences that the psalmists recall, four actual case studies of their community’s troubles and God’s deliverance. Pay attention to the pattern of each lament:

  • They describe the trouble,
  • They cry out to God, admitting their need and fully expecting God to respond
  • God delivers/saves /answers them.
  • They give thanks to the Lord.

Write your own four-line thanksgiving psalm using the same simple pattern:

1) Describe your trouble.

2) I cried out to the Lord for….

3) God answered/saved/delivered me…

4) I thank the Lord for….

  

 

Psalm 107, a psalm of thanksgiving

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in gloom,
prisoners in misery and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor;
they fell down, with no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
14 he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
and broke their bonds asunder.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze,
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17 Some were sick through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
20 he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the mighty waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry live,
and they establish a town to live in;
37 they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their cattle decrease.

39 When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but he raises up the needy out of distress,
and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad;
and all wickedness stops its mouth.
43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

 

2 Comments

  1. I, too, am grateful all is well with your precious heart!

  2. I thank God for your good report so your life on Earth will continue to touch and enrich lives as you have mine. You will be in my prayers and I am thankful for the paths that God creates for us.