I’ve had the privilege of talking a lot about gratitude at my church for the last three weeks.
During our adult faith formation sessions, I’ve talked about the many benefits of expressing gratitude — the notion of writing down two or three things a day for which you are grateful, or of sending notes to thank people for the gifts they bring to our lives, whether tangible or intangible.
There are mental, emotional, physical and spiritual benefits to expressing gratitude, and the Bible has quite a bit to say about gratefulness.
Expressing gratitude — being grateful — is a choice. But, hear me on this, I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish and make it seem that if you express gratitude all of your life’s problems will be solved. That all you have to do is write a few things down and your world is going to turn itself around.
Gratitude is a choice, and sometimes it is a really difficult choice. Ann Voskamp calls it “hard eucharisteo.”
Life comes with difficulties. It’s part of the whole “fallen world” deal. Loved ones die. Diseases are diagnosed. Relationships end leaving us heartbroken and feeling alone. Violence. Car accidents. Political upheaval threatens our security. Friends we once thought we couldn’t live without drift out of view. Rejection comes in one form or another. And, eventually, we face our own declining health and death.
We live in a dark, dark world.
And yet …
“Be grateful anyway.”
Those words echo, sounding hollow against a life change that threatens even the sturdiest of souls.
How can I be grateful when I’ve just lost the love of my life, when my life is threatened by cancer, when people I love feel like expatriates in their own country, when that (insert event here) changed my body irreparably? How can I be grateful after that?
No one said it was easy.
And yet …
We need not fear the dark. Like the promise of Advent, dawn is on the horizon in even the direst of circumstances.
“Naked came I from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return,” Job says. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In hard eucharisteo, begin small, “I’m grateful for the smell of coffee.”
Or, begin with the patently obvious: “I’m grateful I woke up today.” Or, “I’m grateful for the time we had together.”
The important thing is to begin. One moment, one minute, one hour, one day at a time, bringing light into the dark places of our hearts.
This is where the value of learning to express gratitude becomes most important.
Express gratitude in the “good eucharisteo,” for the gifts and events and beauty and people God has brought to your life. Do it when times are good, and you will arm your heart for those seasons when the tide turns.
John Kralik worked through the hard eucharisteo of his life one thank you note at a time, until his perspective changed and his life turned completely around. His law practice was thriving, his staff felt like a team, he reconnected with all of his children, grew closer to his significant other and was surrounded by friends.
Ann Voskamp puts it this way: “You defeat your dark when thanksgiving is your default.”
May it ever be so.