About five years ago, my family and I started a practice recommended for cultivating gratitude in children. We created a family gratitude journal, starting with writing Philippians 4:8 on the cover. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Every time we sat down to dinner together, we would each name a blessing and then rate it as small, medium or large. In doing so, we sought to identify important values and focus on people and experiences more than stuff — e.g., the kindness of a clerk in the drug store, a teacher’s creativity in planning a fun and interesting lesson, a parent bringing a forgotten lunch to school. The first time we named blessings for the gratitude journal, my daughter, who was nine at the time, led with the largest one possible — “Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins.” Way to set the tone.
I’m not sure what happened to that gratitude journal, but we are still in the habit of naming blessings. We certainly did so yesterday at the Thanksgiving dinner table. There’s something surprisingly powerful about articulating expressions of gratitude as well as voicing them aloud. Florin Georgescu preached at the Wednesday service of Holy Eucharist this week and cited this Harvard Medical School article for a number of helpful gratitude practices, including writing a thank-you note and then hand delivering and reading it to the recipient.
This idea reminded me of a recent visit to see our former Music Director, David Ralph, in the hospital. I read to him the many cards and notes parishioners have sent, which touched us both deeply. I also thought about the impact of praying aloud, including the words of the Great Thanksgiving during the Holy Eucharist. The bread and wine are not consecrated without spoken word.
If you haven’t done it yet this Thanksgiving, consider telling someone in your life how grateful you are for them and why. And while you’re at it, thank God for that person too. It’s one of the ways we think about “whatever is commendable…. and worthy of praise.” (Phil. 4:8).
Here’s another one. As radical as this may sound, let God thank you. Listen for God’s gratitude. Listen for God’s message, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Maybe God wants to thank you for helping somebody, or enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, or saying, “I’m sorry.” Receiving God’s gratitude is a way of receiving God’s grace. It’s a way of taking in Jesus’ love for us, which is our spiritual food.
As one parishioner put it on Wednesday, gratitude “lifts you up and changes your mindset.” It also softens our heart, so that when Christ comes again this Christmas, he “may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 160).