If all that we have is a gift from God (Psalm 24:1a), including the gifts we each are given by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:3&6); what is our proper response to this? I believe it is gratitude. In Christ Jesus we are invited to live a life of gratitude – to “give thanks” in all circumstances (I Thes. 5:18). Do you do this? It is easier written than accomplished, that is for sure. But living a grateful life and practicing the basics of gratitude is something we can aspire toward.
In her book Grateful Diana Butler Bass suggests that gratitude can be both an emotional response and an intentional choice. We feel grateful in response to things that happen in our lives. That feeling leads us to want to express thanks and appreciation. Much more than being a transaction of debt or duty, our gratitude comes from our response of having received a gift. This gift may have come from a friend or family member, or from God. We express gratitude in return as a natural expression of what we feel.
But gratitude, according to Bass, is also an ethic or choice. We practice habits of gratitude (such as volunteering, giving, worshiping) that further instill a spirit of gratefulness in our being. By making the choice of gratitude we begin to live a grateful life. Gratitude then grows within us, as a part of our being, and is naturally expressed in our interactions with others, including God.
If we wait to engage gratitude when we feel like it, leaving it in the emotional response only category, the frequency with which it is expressed may suffer. However, if gratefulness is cultivated as a practice – a daily choice – then it will become a more known quantity in our life.
I frequently engage in an ancient spiritual direction practice called the examen, or examination of conscience. In this practice one collects all that has happened over a period of time – let’s say the past day – and reflects on it. One of the questions I use in my practice of the examen is: “What am I grateful for?” I will then list off those things, giving thanks for each of them. I will also sometimes ask: “What am I not grateful for?” Forming that list creates the opportunity to ask why, and consider if I might choose another response. I bring this time of reflection to a close with a final question: “What, if anything, is God inviting me to do or be?” That is, in response to my gratitude, or lack thereof, am I being directed, or re-directed, to respond in some way?
By practicing the examen I am making the effort to look at life through a lens of gratitude. When I do, I am reminded of the many gifts I have been given. Gifted and grateful are two fundamental actions of stewardship involved in the practice of faith.