Gratitude: a gift from the heart

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by Barbara Smith


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Gratitude is such a profound gift that too often appears only one day a year, on our U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Yet this attitude should permeate each and every day of our lives. Gratitude should become as natural as breathing in and out, the breath that sustains us.

We need to recognize that there is so much we take for granted, like our breathing, that is pure gift and should be acknowledged with our gratitude. But gratitude seems to have become a lost art.

Are gifts that are given acknowledged with a thank-you note anymore? Are we like the 10 lepers in Luke's Gospel, where all 10 were healed but only one, a Samaritan, returned to give thanks to Jesus?

With his Meditation on Gratitude and Joy, Jack Kornfield reminds us, "Buddhist monks begin each day with chants of gratitude for the blessings of their lives. In the same way, Native American elders begin each ceremony with grateful prayers to Mother Earth and Father Sky, to the four directions, to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life. ... In Tibet, the monks and nuns even offer prayers of gratitude for the suffering they have been given: 'Grant that I might have enough suffering to awaken in me the deepest possible compassion and wisdom.' "

What an awesome reminder that we should see all of life as gift and grace and be grateful for all, including the suffering that is a part of our journey.

How do you begin each day? Are the first words out of your mouth, "O God, it can't be time to get up yet" or "Thank you, God, for this new day and all that it will hold for me."

Our world is in such a frenzy, and we are always on the run with our eyes glued to our cellphones. We miss the smiles of a baby, the setting sun, the pain of someone who has lost his or her mate, or the lonely person looking for some acknowledgement he or she exists.

When we take so much for granted, even those who mean so much to us, who give us the best of their gifts and talents at work, may go unrecognized. Over 65 percent of American workers say they did not receive any type of recognition or thanks in their workplace in the last seven days. What would it take to say "thank you" or "that was a great presentation" or "you really did a fine job, thanks"?

Gratitude is really a discipline. It is a call to be mindful of what is happening right in front of you. It is an awareness of someone else or of a kindness extended to you that deserves some kind of acknowledgement. When someone does something good to you, your heart resonates with a sense of the goodness that found its way to your heart.

G.K. Chesterton says, "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink." Then all of life is seen as a gift, and gratitude abounds.

How can we grow in gratitude, in the awareness of others and their contributions to life? Here is a practice that has been around for many years: At the end of the day, write down five things that you were grateful for throughout the day. Don't be afraid to include those difficult things that also helped you to grow. If you can remain faithful to this practice each evening, you will begin to see how gifted your day and your week have been. You will begin to see things during the day that you will want to remember and add to your list that evening.

You could even buy a gratitude journal that helps you recognize and be aware of those people, experiences and things that should call you to gratitude and gratefulness.

As you grow in this attitude of gratitude, you may even be challenged to move outside of your comfort zone and let a person who is seeking affirmation know he or she matters by a smile or a comment, like: "Have a good day." You will begin to see the goodness in others, the beauty that surrounds you, or a person who may need your assistance all because you are inclined to be aware and grateful.

There are many benefits to being a grateful person. I was amazed when I read "The 31 Benefits of Gratitude." The article identified life-changing results of gratitude: A grateful person is more optimistic, less materialistic, more spiritual, less self-centered, has greater self-esteem, and has deeper relationships. These qualities will not only benefit you, but all those you encounter on your path of life each day.

Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast captures this great need for gratitude each day in his video "A Grateful Day." Can you welcome each day as gift? Will your only appropriate response be gratitude?

Will all those you meet along the way today be blessed by your presence? Can you let gratefulness overflow to all you encounter as a blessing? If so, then this will be a really good day, and your grateful heart will be full to overflowing.

[Barbara Smith is an Adorer of the Blood of Christ. Her ministries have included work at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, and parish ministry among the Navajo in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Called first to regional leadership and most recently congregational leadership in Rome, she is now awaiting God's surprising call to the next part of her journey.]