With Grateful Hearts

This is the sixth installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Gratitude is a subject that isn’t exactly trendy, but that has gained status in the last two decades in terms of its potential effect on what I would call the human spirit.  There has been more recent attention paid to it in terms of how gratitude or the lack of it affects the way we live.

Sara Hacala, in her book, “Saving Civility,” says that “gratitude is outer—as opposed to inner—directed: We are grateful to someone or for something outside of ourselves—whether to God, people, or things.  It implies our reliance on others for what they provide us and is a humbling reminder that we are not self-sufficient but connected and bound to those around us.”[1]  To me, this sounds exactly like how we are supposed to live as Christians…with grateful hearts for God and for one another, recognizing that we all live in community.

I’m one of those people who says “thanks” or “thank you” too often.  I know I do it, but it’s difficult not to.  Because I mean it.  I really am grateful, but I’ve never known quite why it is such an important thing to me or why I am hyper-alert to the things people do for one another, or for me for that matter.

I think this especially applies to church, when people work together for the wider community or for the church community or do something for one other person.  It really matters.  And I think people should be thanked so they realize that what they do counts—it makes a difference, even if they do it because they want to.

But even though gratitude is a hotter topic at the moment, I have to say it doesn’t necessarily seem like people in general have more gratitude, and it seems that people are expressing it less.  Take saying “thank you,” for instance.  While a “thank you” used to be normal behavior in retail establishments following a purchase, a simple thank you from a cashier is now harder to come by.  And where I would always have said thank you in response, I now find myself wondering why I should say thank you when I do not feel grateful that a sullen, unthankful cashier silently threw my bag of groceries or clothes at me following my purchase.

Maybe people just don’t feel very grateful these days.  It is hard for most of us to embody or express gratefulness when we’re not feeling especially grateful.  So…why should we?  Because it makes a difference for ourselves and those with whom we interact.  In every interaction we have, we can make a change in an increasingly hostile world by finding and then expressing gratitude.   That might sound pollyanna-ish, but research bears it out.  Gratefulness guru Robert Emmons notes: “Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted.”[2]

Life owes me nothing…and nothing can be taken for granted.  If we could think that way all the time, we’d be feeling gratitude most of the time.  Because for most of us living in this country, we have no idea how good we really have it.

In “Sleeping with Bread,” the authors suggest ending each day with these two questions (and preferably actually discussing them with someone): “For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful?” [3] Considering both of these questions helps a more negative person acknowledge that there were some moments for which to be grateful in the day, and helps a person who doesn’t like to think about the difficulties in life to acknowledge that pain or difficulties are part of being human.  I plan to start doing this, and I think this could be woven into our prayer life as well…bet this might be the kind of thing God would like to hear from us.

And, thank you for reading this!

The Rev. Dr. Mary Norton is Priest-in-Charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Corry. 

[1] Sara Hacala, Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude & Attitude for a Polite Planet, (Woodstock, Skylight Paths Publishing, 2012), 113

[2] Dr. Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude, (London, Gaia Books, 2016), Kindle, 10

[3] Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, S.J., Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, (New York, Paulist Press, 1998) Kindle, Loc. 25