“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
My friend Bill shared this story with me. He was on the phone with a friend that he hadn’t seen in some time. They were (of course) talking about the pandemic and the challenges of living through it. Bill’s friend had been planning a wedding, which had to be postponed due to the shut downs and travel bans.
Even so, this friend was determined to make the best of it. He said that at the end of each day, he was choosing to remember something in that day that gave him joy. And then he said to Bill “And I challenge you at the end of the day to think of something that brought you joy.” Bill found that challenge to be very encouraging and he put it into practice. Later in the week, his friend called back and said, “OK, Bill, tell me what brought you joy.” A great conversation ensued.
Bill’s friend was simply tapping in to the power of gratitude. There’s a library of literature espousing the benefits of regularly practicing gratitude. Gratitude helps with relationships, helps your health, helps mitigate against depression, and even helps you sleep better. I’ve long encouraged people to consider the whole month of November a “Season of Thanksgiving” in which we practice gratitude.
Bill’s story reminds me, however, that gratitude is more than a private spiritual practice. When we, as Christians, ask people what they’re grateful for, we are subtly asking them to take a small step closer to Christ. As Paul says in I Thessalonians, it is God’s will that we are joyful, prayerful, and thankful. When we ask someone in our network to practice gratitude, we are implicitly asking them to do a little bit of God’s will.
In addition to all the psychological and physiological benefits to gratitude, there is a spiritual benefit. I believe that the act of gratitude softens people’s hearts and opens them up to Christ all the more. The act of gratitude begs the question “to whom am I grateful?” When we ask someone about gratitude, that simple act becomes a tiny little seed in their mind. And God, who makes things grow (I Cor 3:7), may nourish that seed into something mighty.
Of course, if we’re going to ask the question of others, then we should also be practicing gratitude regularly. Why not try it yourself this week. End each day by writing a list of 2 or 3 things you’re grateful for or which have brought you joy. And then think of 2 or 3 people this week that you can invite to the same challenge. Maybe do it together as a practice. Follow up with them later and see what effect the practice of gratitude had. You may be amazed at the results!