Cultivating a Spirit of Gratitude

Think of someone who is very special in your life. A spouse. A parent. A child. A friend. Now say a little prayer of thanksgiving to God, say it quietly in your heart.

Think of a teacher from the past, a mentor, someone who taught you some life lessons that you still carry with you. They may be someone from your childhood, or someone recent. Now say a little prayer of thanksgiving to God, say it quietly in your heart.

Think of some opportunity in your life that has really blessed you. It may be a work opportunity. It may be some opportunity in a relationship or in a friendship. Now say a little prayer of thanksgiving to God, say it quietly in your heart.

Think of your health, and the wonderful medical advances and the care we have in this country. Even if you have some chronic or serious health issue, think of those who have helped you, been at your side, encouraged you. Now say a little prayer of thanksgiving to God, say it quietly in your heart.

Think of your faith, this beautiful church and this priceless religious tradition. How has God comforted you in times of fear, encouraged and strengthened you in times of need, filled you with joy and special blessings. Now say a little prayer of thanksgiving to God, say it quietly in your heart.

Think of some of the great challenges you have faced in your life. They may not have been pleasant. You may have traveled through some dark times. Yet who was there for you to support you and help you? How was God present during these darkest times, and how did these times help you grow in character? Even for these difficult challenges, say a little prayer of thanksgiving to God, say it quietly in your heart.

Have we cultivated the eyes of gratitude in our lives? Do we have the eyes to see God’s countless blessings all around us, every day of our lives?

In our secular and church calendars, we have at least two times a year when our attention turns to gratitude. Of course always in November when our country celebrates Thanksgiving, and then in January we always hear the Gospel reading of the Ten Lepers, when ten desperate men come before Christ asking for healing, and after they are healed, only one foreigner returns to express gratitude.

Of course, I shouldn’t say we turn our attention to gratitude only twice a year because every Sunday we gather together as the people of God in this church to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, a Service which is called the Eucharist, a service of thanksgiving. And every day, whenever we stand before God and enter into our morning and evening prayers, or when we offer prayers up to God throughout the day, we should be offering words of gratitude and thanksgiving.

As humans, we were created as beings of thanksgiving. This is what makes us unique, children created in the image and likeness of God. We were created as beings of thanksgiving, yet we have a choice on whether to express such gratitude or to ignore it.

Unfortunately, our desire to thank God and to thank those who bless us is sometimes replaced with the vice of complaining, of whining, of focusing on the negative instead of the blessings of life, of looking at what we don’t have and what others may have, instead of appreciating all the gifts we’ve been blessed with.

Our perspective on life will be what we cultivate in our lives, on what we practice every day, on what daily habits we practice. Of course, we have a choice on the attitude we hold and on the worldview with which we look at life – will it be one of thanksgiving or one of entitlement, one of gratitude or one of complaining, one of praising God for all things or one of focusing on what we don’t have? Which spirit do we cultivate in our lives?

As I was googling through the topic of thanksgiving, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of books with the title “365 Days of Thanksgiving.” These are books describing the journey of trying to go every day with writing about different things that the authors were thankful for – every day focusing on something new for which to thank God. The beauty of trying to follow this discipline is that if we look for things to thank God for, if we look at the people all around us for whom we are grateful, if we look at opportunities and challenges with gratitude, it changes our entire perspective of life. It changes the way we encounter life itself. In fact, it changes our lives!!!

Gratitude makes us more positive about life, it helps us to see the good in others, it helps us see the good in life all around us! How many of us love being around people who are constantly seeing the good all around them, and expressing gratitude for life itself, compared to hanging around those who are ungrateful and unhappy.

From today’s Gospel story let us learn from the one grateful leper, and not the other nine. One returned to God to say “Thank you.”

May we be thanking God every day and countless times throughout each day of our lives.

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