There are signs of gratitude and thanksgiving everywhere I go. Literally. One can find the word ‘grateful’ on any number of plaques sold in home improvement departments. Recently I saw a plaque in someone’s bathroom which read, “Be Thankful.” Interesting placement for that sign I thought! At a farmer’s market I saw a pillow with these words: grateful, thankful, blessed.
In her book, Co-dependent No More by Melody Beattie, she writes, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Gratitude makes things right.”
Powerful words! And yet I wonder, how does gratitude do all of that? It almost sounds like magic, doesn’t it? How does gratitude actually work? There is a Gospel story that gives us one answer.
In the Gospel of Luke, (17:11-19) we are told the story of ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. Healed, they went on their way to their homes. However, one returned to Jesus to offer thanks and praised God “with a loud voice.” He threw himself on the ground at the feet of Jesus. What an act of sloppy love and surrender! And what did he say? He said, “Thank you!” And Jesus said, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Your faith has made you well. In this case the word well means healed in the sense of being made whole.
Now I am sure that the nine lepers were grateful to be cured of their disease. But the writer of the Gospel and Jesus emphasize the behavior of the one who praised God and thanked Jesus. He was made whole. This short Gospel account gives us a wonderful illustration of the difference between curing and healing. Nine lepers are cured, but only one, the tenth is pronounced healed, made whole. The tenth leper had been cured of his leprosy, but unlike the other nine he demonstrated his healing and wholeness as he fluently expressed his gratitude and thanksgiving to God and to Jesus. The tenth leper shows us one important way we can express our gratitude. It is to praise God and to say thank-you out loud to someone or something.
Gratitude may be a feeling or a mind state but for it to actually effect positive changes in our lives, I think it needs to be expressed with concrete action. Action is what makes gratitude work and change people. There is something about saying thank-you out loud to others and praising God that moves us closer to spiritual wholeness. Expression of our gratitude can take the form of spontaneous praise to God and creation.
Last spring, I was able to watch an eagle for quite some time. It was perched on a tall pole, and I was able to take several pictures of it while it was eyeballing the grasses below. Suddenly the eagle’s mate zoomed in and knocked the sitting eagle off of the post. They both flew off. And then I saw a river otter emerge from the grasses and gracefully disappear into the bay. The eagle must have been studying the otter. Who knows why the eagle’s mate interrupted the vigil? What a treat this moment in God’s creation offered me! I thanked all three of the animals for simply being and then I praised God for this small part of creation of which I was included.
Expression of our gratitude can be as simple as saying “Thank-you” to our Creator, creation, families, friends and strangers where and whenever they show up. For what or whom are you grateful? Do you routinely thank the individuals in your lives who bring you love and joy? Do you praise God for creation and your many blessings and gifts?
Speaking of gifts, a favorite hymn of mine that is traditionally sung on Thanksgiving Day in churches is titled, “All Good Gifts.” The chorus simply states, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all of God’s love.” God’s gifts are all that we are and all that we have been given.
I am reminded by how Esther De Waal ends her lovely book called, The Celtic Way of Prayer. She writes
What a waste to go through life surrounded by all the good gifts that God showers on me, “gently and generously” yet blind and deaf to his presence hidden in all things, human and nonhuman. As I learn not to take for granted, to wonder anew, I find that a constant attitude of gratitude is life-giving. In the face of such amazing grace and generosity, the only possible response must become that of continuing and ever-deepening praise.
As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holy day, we might ponder what David Adam, in his book, The Open Gate, says. He rightly connects thanksgiving with thanks-living.
Thanks-living is our appreciation of our wonderful and mysterious world being reflected in our actions, our awareness of our good and gracious God, seen in the way we are generous and giving also. It is also being more aware of the great unity of all creation. Thanksgiving literally has the power to transform our world.
Thank you one and all for reading this. I praise God for the Godspace community. It is a blessing and a sign of God’s love for all of us. And, of course it is a wonderful place to practice thanks-living!
Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin inspire ways to get geared up for the coming season of gratitude in this popular online course! Sign up for 180 days to enjoy this retreat at your own pace – including craft tutorials and print-outs plus much more. Check it out in our shop!