Oprah Winfrey recently said one of the best pieces of advice Maya Angelou gave her was no matter how bad things seemed to be, all ways remember to give thanks to God, even if it is just for the strength to work through the issue. I have to admit, it is excellent advice. This advice is similar to what my Junior High School Guidance counselor told me to do when I was exceptionally angry with a teacher. Her advice was to find two good things I could say about that teacher every day, no matter how small it was. Amazingly enough, within a few days’ time, my willingness to work with that teacher changed for the good.
An attitude of gratitude and appreciation can be as powerful in our lives as anger and hatred. In fact, one of the things I remember from psychology 101 is how the brain stores information based on positive and negative feelings, and how non-chemical depression can be treated by encouraging the individual to focus on positives in his or her life. Doing so can move the individual to work out of the positive memory areas of the brain as opposed to the negative areas. This also goes hand in hand with what Ken Hogan used to counsel those adjusting to being paralyzed. His sage advice was always to focus on what you can do and not what you cannot do.
It is with all of these desperate thoughts on gratitude and appreciation that Paul’s words of joy to the Ephesians , “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” resonates with me.
Intentional gratitude is an important spiritual discipline and yet is one we rarely discuss. There is so much to be thankful for, and since we believe all things come from God, it is to God we should be giving the most thanks and praise. Making the time to give thanks, however, is often low on our lists when it comes to our prayers. I know, like most of you, the time I have for prayer is often very short and it fills up quickly with study, reflection, and intercessions. Prayers of gratitude are rare and reserved for only major events. In order to rectify this within my spiritual life, I have resolved for 2015 to make time to thank God for at least two things every morning. And I would like to invite you to join me in this journey and to see if this enhanced practice does not somehow positively affect our lives.
Take a moment to make a mental list of five things you are thankful to God for today, even if it’s just general things like family, health, friends, or enough food to get you through the day.
To help us go even more deeply, I would like to share a list of things I am thankful for as a result of my faith and relationship with God. My list is not like Johnny Carson’s, they are not necessarily a top ten list. The list I share with you today is random, listed in the order they came to me during prayer on Friday morning.
I am thankful for the gift of hope, the hope I have gained knowing our world is not what God has intended for it to be, nor does God wish it to remain. And therefore, I can live with the hope that one day the world will be a better and different place because through the commemoration of Christmas I know what the reign of God will be like some day.
I am thankful for the trust I have in the promise of eternal life – the belief that death is not the end but a new beginning, that someday I will be reunited with those I have loved on earth.
I am thankful for the companionship of the Holy Spirit – no matter how lonely or isolated I may feel, I have the assurance that I never face adversity alone.
I am thankful for the sacraments of the church – they have served to remind me that God’s love and presence are constant and unwavering at all times in life.
For the gathering of community each week – this tells me that darkness has not overcome the light of divine mercy and love. . .that God is still growing throughout all of humanity.
I am thankful for the gift of trust and the knowledge of God – I believe these are the things that complete me as a human being and are the foundation of feeling fulfilled.
I am thankful for the saints God has placed in my life to share their journeys, who have shown me how wholeness can be found even in the midst of being broken.
I am thankful to be part of this community of St. Luke’s – you have taught me about the resilience of faith, the joy of mutual ministry, and the courage to continue striving towards becoming a fully active body of Christ in the way St. Paul describes.
I am thankful for the incarnation – Jesus of Nazareth – who has given us an approachable and tangible God to be in relationship with.
I am thankful for the salvation of the cross which makes my relationship with God possible. It teaches us how great God’s love truly is . . . and what mercy and unconditional love is like.
I am thankful for the gift of prayer which makes conversation with God possible.
Finally, I am thankful for creation itself, especially that which is found in the natural beauty of the Finger Lakes, it reminds me of how wonderful and awesome the artistry of God can be.
This is just the beginning of my list of gratitude for what I am thankful for from God, it purposely doesn’t begin to touch on the gifts of family and health, or on wealth or possessions. And for today, it remains very broad. I can only imagine how long this list will become as I begin to think in the specific and give thanks for the gifts I have received from the people in my life. As I embark on this journey, I suspect my spiritual life will be enhanced with a greater awareness of the Divine’s activity in my daily life and a greater sense of how God’s grace surrounds me in every way.
So again, I invite you to embark on a journey of gratitude with me, and like Paul to offer thanks without ceasing for all the blessings which flow from God to us.