Gratitude is “in.”
Particularly during this pandemic, talk of gratitude abounds: in op-eds, social media threads, work forums, and academic journals. It’s no wonder; research shows that practicing gratitude can result in greater feelings of joy.
Reflections of gratitude can point back to deep, spiritual truths. For instance, when I express thankfulness for my family’s safety and health, I am reminded that our well-being flows from God’s providence. It is God who I praise, not my health.
Yet often, it is tempting to let naming what we are grateful for to be the beginning and end of a spiritual practice. I ride this slippery slope myself. Gratitude for my family’s health can easily slide into “I’m grateful for the café around the corner – #bestcappuccinoever.” I dilute gratitude to something of this earth rather than the stuff of heaven.
In this season of Lent, I want to cultivate a gratitude practice that propels me and my family into a deeper relationship with God. How do I ensure my thankfulness prepares me to renew my baptismal promise, drawing me closer to heaven and the promise of Easter?
I need look no further than the Our Father as a guide. The Lord’s Prayer provides us with four basic tenets of the kind of gratitude that prepares us to restore our hearts in the waters of Christ.
“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
First, I acknowledge the source of what I am thankful for, that there is a divine origin, rather than an earthly one. Just like in the Our Father, we name God as the originator of our gifts. When I reflect on how grateful I am that my family is healthy and safe, I acknowledge that this is possible only because of God, that he ordered it to be so.
“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
Acknowledging God as the originator of our gifts also means recognizing there is an inherent movement to them, a flow. Our blessings are not static, but rather an active gift from God to us, a dynamic exchange between heaven and earth, all so that we might experience but a glimpse of God’s eternal goodness. In my prayer of thanksgiving for my family’s health, I bask in this glimmer of heaven.
“…give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
Even though these lines mention “forgiveness,” they also remind us there is a ripple effect to our blessings, that we are blessed to pour forth to others rather than to keep for ourselves. In our gratitude practice, this means reflecting on how we can receive a gift so that we can give a gift. With a healthy family and in the fortunate position of having reliable incomes throughout the pandemic, my husband and I made larger financial gifts to the nonprofits we typically support each year. Giving in this way brought about another reason for gratitude: the opportunity to serve. With other opportunities to serve marginalized and vulnerable communities more limited during the pandemic, we were grateful to identify a way to pour forth our gifts to others.
“…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
The closing of the Our Father imparts on us a responsibility that comes with what we receive. We have the responsibility to express gratitude without an expectation of what we will receive in return. This means acknowledging that the gift of my family’s well-being may be temporary. One of us could fall ill or lose our jobs. And yet I give thanks not to ensure my blessings will continue, but in recognition for what already is.
Praying in this way does not preclude me from appreciating earthly joys like that cappuccino. It simply reminds me that these simple pleasures are invitations to wade deeper into the waters of Christ, that an experience of the earthly is a chance to explore the heavenly that brought it about. For instance, the cappuccino may help us realize our blessing of time to walk to the café and experience God’s creation along the way, or it can spark an appreciation for the members of Christ’s body who produced and served that invigorating drink.
This Lent, let’s orient God at the heart of our “thank you.” When we do so, we prepare our own hearts to join with his son on Easter. Talk about #blessed.