Every Thanksgiving Day – Canadian thanksgiving just passed - becomes on occasion for a preacher to reflect deeply on the very act of gratitude.
This year was no different. I happened to choose Col 3:15-17 - an ancient text that guided the spiritual life of God’s new people in Asia Minor.
and be thankful. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible, Col 3:15–17 (Biblical Studies Press, 2006; 2006)).
At the same time I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. She writes
Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. (Brown, Brene (2010-09-20). The Gifts of Imperfection (pp. 77-78). Hazelden. Kindle Edition.)
She then goes on to mention some such practices including journaling and prayers of thanksgiving. The Practices of Gratitude, she argues, are an important part of the practices necessary for a healthy life –emotional, physical and spiritual.
I was also reminded of the importance of gratitude in Ignatian spirituality. Ignatius lived around the same time as Calvin and wrote
I will also thank him because he has shown me, all through my life up to the present moment, so much pity and mercy" (Spiritual Exercises, 71). Carol Ann Smith; Eugene Merz. Finding God in Each Moment: The Practice of Discernment in Everyday Life (p. 84). Kindle Edition.
For reformed folk, we remember that gratitude is headline for the third part of the Heidelberg Catechism which celebrates that our life of prayer and obedience is an act of thanksgiving for the grace we received in Christ.
None of this is necessarily new. But I was impressed that voices spread over different times and in different communities all brought attention to the vital role of practices of gratitude. Journaling, prayers of gratitude, at the end of the day reviewing our experiences and thanks to God for every sign of grace, and other practices tune the mind and heart to the mystery and wonder of God’s action in our life.
If we want to help people grow in the life with God, practices of gratitude are a good place to begin. Grateful lives fight the fear that there is not enough for all, but we experience that God gives us more than enough. Grateful lives fight fear because our God who has loved us so much will continue to love us and his perfect love drives out fearfulness. Practices of daily thanksgiving invite us to open our eyes and see our days with fresh vision of grace. Gratitude does not deny difficult days nor avoid real trouble. But it does open our hearts to see in all circumstances the presence of God who is with us and for us.