It seems to be a cliché to write about gratitude with Thanksgiving in November. However, this is what came to mind as I try to explain an attitude of gratitude in words.
There is a source of gratitude, there are obstacles to gratitude and there is a constant overflow of gratitude with numerous points between full and empty. Gratitude is a creation of the Trinity; the Heavenly Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our Father created it; the Son gave us the greatest example of gratitude and the Holy Spirit who instills it in us. Without all three of these we miss part of the whole attitude of gratitude. There are obstacles to gratitude such as; a distant relationship with our source, self pity and being absorbed in a "me first" worldly perspective. Actually the last two could be sub-categories of the first.
One of my grateful moments came from a weekly TV show. It is prime time evening and the opening of Mash is starting. Tears fill eyes and my throat chokes up while the nurses are sprinting to the landing zone to unload the wounded. Memories from Hill 69 remind me of the flights of med evac choppers returning to the field hospital at Chu Lai, Vietnam. From the southern horizon to mid-way up the coast, there is a stream of Marine helicopters evacuating wounded from the battlefield in the south. The opening of M*A*S*H always reminds me of how grateful I should be to have left Vietnam without any physical injury. Many times I should have been carried out on med evac but our gracious God's love spared me from that.
Staying connected with the Trinity can be done by daily Centering Prayer, daily scripture reading and community worship. These are just three of numerous methods to stay in touch with our Creator, Redeemer and Comforter. If we are unplugged from our power source by staying away, rejecting or denying our God exists, we can’t see God. If we don’t see God then how can we see His blessing? Without the thought of being fortunate or blessed our gratitude is diminished. However, with God who "works all things for good", and is continually loving and forgiving, how can I not feel grateful? Not realizing God wants to bless us is part of the problem. "Seek first the kingdom and all things will be added." "Everything you do will prosper", "the desires of your heart", more than you can imagine, "abundant life." These, a few snippets of verses indicate God wants to bless us. These verses do not mean we all will be materially wealthy but point to spiritual wealth with the fruits and gifts of the spirit.
Another obstacle to gratitude is self pity, which puts me at the center of my world. I’m not at fault for all the wrong around me. Who is to blame? Who is causing my misery? When I am selfish even God is wrong, therefore he must have caused it. Eventually it leads to thinking that I have it worse than anyone else does. This attitude lacking gratitude becomes a spiral downward, wider and deeper, shutting out my vision of gratitude. Prolonged lack of gratitude no doubt affects my physical, mental and spiritual health.
Looking into the loaded refrigerator it seems I’m lost trying to find something. My first impulse is to grumble that I can’t find anything in such a full refrigerator. Fortunately, before I finish grumbling the Holy Spirit injects; "Why aren’t you more thankful for the full refrigerator?" Thank God it is full. A more mature Christian would thank God they can’t see the back wall because it is full. Again the Holy Spirit instills in me, "Could you be grateful if the refrigerator were empty?" I hope so but I don’t think I’m there yet with the amount of my grumbling about being plentiful. What does that say about me? Paul wrote, "Do all things without grumbling", "He will supply all your needs." I hope I can find a balance at least, but better yet, that I would reach St. Paul’s level, "Whatever state I’m in to be content."
Absorbed in a worldly negative attitude we may not even realize an ungrateful attitude because of the influence of friends, lifestyles or upbringing that dominate our present thinking. We come to faith carrying various issues that influence and blind our gratitude. Our Centering Prayer allows God’s action within to make a huge influence on revealing or correcting our obstacles. In Centering Prayer God decides to choose His action to modify within us. Our perspective blinds us or clears the way to see. Our attitude supports our gratitude but our perspective must be connected to our Heavenly Father’s viewpoint.
As I walk through the hospitals I feel the pain of the patients, families and staff. (Your words come to me and they comfort me.) The patient in 991 has been there for over 200 days. When I enter the patient’s room his spouse looks weary and tries to smile but her smile fades. My spirit picks up on the peoples pain more than what I see. All I can do is to do my job quickly and leave with the least amount of disturbance. If I can find some words to say, I speak them and leave praying as I move onto the next patient. Gratitude wells up in me as I thank God for my good health while still feeling the Patient’s emotional pain. Every ache of mine is so trivial compared to the patients I encounter.
Gratitude comes from our source, God and Creator, and instilled by the Holy Spirit. I pray that I can live grateful for every moment without the grumbling that is part of my life. I pray that Centering Prayer would bring God’s action to resolve this issue. God fills us with love, joy peace, kindness and faith to build our gratitude with the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit. With these blessings God gives us a perspective to see His blessings in our life from God’s viewpoint. We can understand now the range of His Blessings from the most significant to the tiniest of material blessing.
(Verses include: Matt. 6:33, Deut. 29:9, Ps. 34:4, Eph. 3:29, John 10:10, Phil. 2:14 & 4:19)
David Jorgenson is a trained presenter of Centering Prayer and a member of the Minnesota Contemplative Outreach Planning group.