Willie Nelson once said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” In this one sentence he has summed up the spiritual discipline of Gratitude. Though many people are aware of the value of being thankful, not everyone is aware that gratitude is a spiritual practice that brings us into a deeper relationship with God. A study published in Psychology Today (April 2015) notes that being grateful improves physical and emotional health, improves sleep, empathy and relationships and strengthens mental capacity. Maybe that is why the Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).”
There are many ways to cultivate gratitude. Like Willie Nelson, you can intentionally count your blessings-why not make that part of your evening prayer? You can also write and mail or deliver one “thank you” note each week to someone who is significant in your life or start a “gratitude” journal where you note 5-7 things per day for which you are thankful.
Author/Storyteller Brené Brown has said something to the effect that gratitude keeps privilege (unearned access to resources) from becoming entitlement (expectations of access to resources). Along those lines, it is important to me, after eating a meal, to intentionally thank God for my food, while washing my plate or putting it in the dishwasher. Similarly, each time I turn on my water faucet I am reminded that many people do not have fresh water and I am again aware of how blessed I am. Gratitude for these privileges leads me to consider the truth of Jesus’ words “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). In this way, gratitude humbles me and helps me work on right relationship with God. I am entitled to nothing. However for reasons unknown to me, I have been blessed. In turn, I want to bless others so that God’s love is reflected.
Gratitude is a path that can lead us to new spiritual awareness and deepen our faith. In my experience, it can even help us find our way out of the dark jungle of grief by helping us focus on how fortunate we are to have experienced the love of the one we have lost. It is not a painless, short, or easy path, but gratitude makes it bearable and brings us ever closer to God.
–Rev. Lynn McLaughlin