Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How Are You Grateful?


This post also appeared in today's newsletter from St. John's, Decatur. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn more of what God is doing in and through the people of our parish, click here.

If watching baseball games made one a better ballplayer and reading cookbooks made one a better cook, success in life might come easier, but it would not be as satisfying or as sweet. Practice, by definition, is tedious, but the joy of having worked at something over and over until one has mastered it is one of life's greatest rewards. A demanding recital piece, a delicate recipe, a convincing sales pitch, a smooth golf swing----all of the things in life that are worth doing well require practice. If mediocrity and inconsistency are all that we desire, we can afford to sit and watch, but, if we want to excel at something, we must get up and do it.

I want to be better at being grateful. I can handle shooting 90 on the golf course. I can afford to let a soufflé fall. I can gain a small sense of satisfaction by hammering out a few broken chords on the piano when no one other than my family is listening. But I cannot stand the thought of failing at gratitude. Of all the people I know----family, friends, acquaintances, parishioners, public figures----those whom I enjoy the most are the ones who excel at being grateful, and the ones whose company I loathe are those who fail at it miserably. Is anyone more fun to be with than someone who demonstrates appreciation for every gift that life gives? Is there anyone less pleasant than someone who takes all of life for granted? Can you think of anyone as peaceful and content as someone who practices gratitude to the fullest? Can you think of anyone more tiresome and off-putting than a person who carries a spirit of entitlement into every situation and relationship? For my sake and for the sake of the people I love, I want to be good at gratitude, but that kind of success requires practice.

Last Sunday we took up our semi-annual collection for the United Thank Offering. I reminded the congregation that the money inside those little blue boxes is not as important as the daily practice of putting something into them. Although the offering itself will help alleviate poverty around the world, the deeper spiritual benefit is gained when we place that box on our nightstand, empty out the change in our pockets each evening, and place that handful of coins into the box while saying a small prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings God has given us. The mission of the United Thank Offering is to engender a spirit of gratitude through the daily habit of giving thanks to God. Experience teaches us that a life steeped in gratitude grows from a daily practice of thanksgiving. Thinking about it might help a little, but doing it----practicing gratitude----is what shapes our hearts and minds and wills. The habitual act of thanksgiving leads to a spirit of gratitude, and a spirit of gratitude leads to a life of generosity, and a life of generosity is one that reflects our faith in God who provides all of our blessings.

Ask yourself how you are grateful. Instead of beginning with the things for which you are grateful, start with the practice itself. Begin with the action. As children, we traced the outline of our hand to make a Thanksgiving turkey. Our thumb became the head and beak of the bird, and the fingers became the feathers. On each feather we were asked to write something for which we were thankful, and the act of doing it----of cutting and pasting and coloring and writing----was itself an expression of gratitude. How long has it been since you made a gratitude turkey like that? Do you keep a journal of all the things for which you are thankful, writing down a list of blessings each day? Do you kneel beside your bed each night and thank God for the things that God has given you? Do you say a blessing before each meal? Do you sit in grateful silence for ten minutes each morning? Do you place an offering in the alms basin each Sunday? Do you hand write a thank you note every day?

Are you grateful in theory or in practice? We know that we are blessed, but do we see those blessings? We believe that God pours his riches upon us each day, but do we trust that they will never cease? Of the most precious things in life is gratitude, and gratitude requires effort on our part. Choose to be thankful as a matter of habit and watch how gratitude takes over your life.

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