Not too long ago, I was invited to speak at a Senior Center Forum on the topic, “An Attitude of Gratitude.” Gratitude, that ability to be thankful, is certainly an important and healing component of who we are as God’s people, but it can also be a difficult thing to conjure up if we are overwhelmed by other things in our lives.
What we have come to know as “the holiday season” – roughly Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day– can be a tough time for many people. It’s a time where we often hear a lot about being grateful, or thankful or joyous. It is also a time when many of us may find it hard to feel that way. In the winter, our access to natural light gets less. Our bodies naturally react to the decreased light by slowing down – literally depressing. We may feel sluggish. We may feel sad. Being joyful or thankful does not seem like the natural thing we want to do. This time of year can also be difficult for those who have experienced loss in their lives. The memories of family members who have passed or of a family that once was whole or of people who are far away, can all make this an emotionally dark time for us as well.
When you, yourself are struggling with grief or depression or just feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, it can be particularly hard when there is almost a demand in our society that you be upbeat and joyous. The data, however, shows us that a lot more of us are hurting than we think or let on. While the society around us may seem to be happy, joyous and full of gratitude, it is also a fact that reports of depression, feelings of loneliness, domestic violence and even suicide all peak in the months of December and January.
So how can we can we remain grateful even in the midst of the darkness that may surround us? I suggest starting by taking stock of the gifts we have received and the people that are and have been in our lives. When people first come into a 12-Step recovery program, they are often at the lowest point in their lives. One of the very first practices they are taught is to begin to write down, each day, something for which they are grateful. It seems counterintuitive to ask people who “have hit their bottom” to be grateful, but each day is a baby-step to healing.
We can also remember to allow ourselves to feel how we feel and to remember that others we meet may also be going through a tough time. There is no need for guilt or shame. Our pain, our grief, our brokenness are real parts of who we are. But they are also not fully who we are or what we may become. As people of faith, we also trust that the Light is greater than the darkness and our dark places are not the only definition of who we are. In the dark, love remains.
For my presentation at the Senior Center, I offered up a working definition of what an “Attitude of Gratitude” might look like:
It is not the denial of the suffering, pain and loss we have experienced, but the personal decision to look through these events into a larger realization of:
what we have been given,
what we have been allowed to achieve and
the people we have loved and who have loved us
all of which has made us who we are today.
While, by no means complete, I pray that this humble attempt may help us find a new way in which we can give thanks. May we be gentle with ourselves and one another. May we be sensitive to the complexities this time of year may bring to us and to others. And may we be truly grateful for all that we have received, even if it is just one thing this day.
God’s blessings and love to us all during this Advent and Christmas.
Not so long ago, I received a note from an old friend in which she
thanked me for being an inspiration in her life and for being a
witness to Jesus for her. I was pretty shocked to say the least:
first, because I had not seen her in over 30 years and second
because, I had absolutely no idea that I had been any kind of
influence to her.
That is a grace moment – God using me, in spite of myself, to help
It got me to thinking about all those people who have been
important for my faith. Some of those people have died. Many are
still active in my life. Some, like my note-writing friend, are still
alive, but I haven’t really talked to them in a long time. In each
case, these people have been used by God to touch my life and I
I think about many of those people at Holy Communion. When we
gather at the Table, I am often reminded that we do so
surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
Theologians tell us that in the great mystery of the
Resurrection, when we gather for communion, we join all those
saints at the Table. When we celebrate The Feast, we do so with
us a host of people who have touched our lives and strengthened
our faith along the way—literally a myriad of mothers, fathers,
grandparents, friends, siblings, Sunday School teachers, pastors,
neighbors, etc., who have shared with each of us, through word
and example, what it means to be a follower of Jesus. These are
the saints in our lives. These are the ones who have passed on the
faith to us. These are the ones who still mark us and influence us
For those I am thankful. Is it any wonder that another word for
Holy Communion, “Eucharist” means, “Thanksgiving”?
Who have been those saints in your life? Who was there with
patient prayers, or faithful instruction? Who mentored you along
the way, or cared enough to make certain that you did not get
lost? Who laughed with you in your triumphs, and cried for your
tragedies or mistakes? Who was that solid example of integrity
and grace? Who were and are those saints that are the faithful
cloud of witnesses in your life?
November 1 st is All Saints Day, and on Sunday, November 3rd, we
will observe All Saints Sunday. Take time to thank God for all the
saints—past and present– that God has given to bless your life.
Take time as well to ask, “How is God using me to be that saint for
someone else?” In some ways, we may know how we share Jesus
to some people, but I suspect that in many ways, we will never
really know just how brightly God is shining through us to
positively touch another person. And that, my friends, is living in
And for that, I am thankful.