• 3 ways to grow in gratitude

    Last night I was in attendance at a church board meeting–not known for being the most Spirit-filled venue on the planet. Before we began our meeting, Fr. Eirik ask us to go around and mention one thing that was going well for us and one prayer request. He began by saying he was “thankful to be thankful.” As we continued around the room, gratitude, joy and thankfulness became themes of how we’re being met by God right now. We then prayed for each other and the gratitude continued to grow. There was a palpable sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our prayers. It was an amazing and energizing way to start a church meeting!

    Contrast this picture with another picture, say, of a family meal where someone has the bright idea to have everyone go around and say something they’re thankful for. Undoubtedly there are people who are truly grateful, but there are others (and I often found myself in this category) who feel embarrassed, knowing that gratitude is something we “should do” but often fail at, who then become “the-thing-I-ought-to-be-grateful-for-but-aren’t-feeling-it” person. When you’re in that position, forget about the Holy Spirit–you’re not even able to connect to those you’re sitting around the table with. Expressing gratitude, appreciation and thankfulness is key to connecting and relating to others, including God.

    So how do we move from knowing we ought to be grateful to actually doing it?

    • Practice. Expressing gratitude is really hard when you only do it on Thanksgiving Day. Start by making a list of 3 things you’re grateful for every day–even if they’re things you think you “ought to” be grateful for.
    • doggie_bag_sqFeel and be grateful. Look over your gratitude list. What’s on there that you can feel and express gratitude for? It might not be gratitude itself, but a different positive emotion, like comfort, peace, excitement or joy. It might be helpful to find something on your list that has a physical sensation with it. For me, two of my favorites when I don’t feel particularly grateful are my dog and the sun. I can hold Roxie and pet her and feel comfort and love by doing that, and then express gratitude. With the sun, as I feel it warm my skin, I get warm inside and give thanks for that. Babies work great for this!
    • Include others. Are you one of those people who gets embarrassed when having to share something you’re grateful for? The only cure is to do it more often! Start with your spouse, children or a close friend. Share daily something you’re grateful for or something you appreciate about them, then ask them to do the same. Make as much eye contact as you can–even if you are embarrassed–and just get it out there. After a few awkward interactions it will get easier. (“I love you, man!” “No, I love you!”)

    Though it’s not on the lists of the fruits of the Spirit, gratitude is an important emotion that fosters love, hope, joy, peace, patience, and humility–and thankfulness, of course. Somehow it allows us to connect our left and right brains together to be more wholly engaged persons. And that’s a step in the direction of abundant life.

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