Gratitude as a spiritual discipline. Gratitude as a choice. Let’s think about this. Sometimes, we look at gratitude as a spontaneous response to something someone has done for us. That’s nice. Yet, gratitude as a spiritual discipline means consciously cultivating a spirit of gratitude in all circumstances – for whatever we perceive as good as well as for the blessings we receive even in the midst of difficult, unfortunate or challenging experiences.
Cultivating a spirit of gratitude means opening our hearts to see God’s Presence everywhere in all things and at all times. That’s surely hard to do at times and it may take serious discernment. Yet it is possible. When we learn to see life through God’s lens, gratitude can become a choice!
Even when our emotions and feelings tempt us to complain or to see all that is wrong, the spiritual discipline of gratitude guides us to look for goodness and beauty and love in all circumstances. Expressing gratitude instead of complaining. This surely takes effort, yet the more we practice and cultivate a spirit of gratitude, the more it will come naturally to us.
An Estonian proverb says “Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” Of course, the opposite is what we strive to develop in our spiritual discipline. When we practice thanking God and others for the little things of life, this will develop into thanking God for the countless blessings we receive every day.
Our ultimate goal is to be filled with eyes that see God’s wonder everywhere we look, to see God’s beauty in everyone we encounter.
I look at my son, Paul, who has been working out over years. Years ago he was a skinny little teenager. For years now he’s been working out almost every day, and as a result he’s gained 30 pounds of muscle. How did that happen? Not over night. Not by simply wishing it. Not by going to the gym once in a while only when he felt like it. It happened with regular exercise and almost daily working out.
Practicing gratitude consciously and consistently in little ways develops over the years into a rock solid habit. This practice of finding reasons to thank God on a daily basis opens up our eyes to see the wonders and blessings of God we receive every day, so that we can perceive His hand present in all circumstances of life.
St. Nikolai Velimirovic reminds us that “God does not for a moment tire of giving us good things, so how can we tire of thanking Him for these good things every day?”
St. Ambrose of Optina says, “We must begin with thanksgiving for everything for the beginning of joy is to be content with your situation.”
St. John Chrysostom puts it this way, “Happiness is achieved when we look inward and learn to be grateful for whatever life brings us. Of course, this requires transforming greed into gratitude.”
Saint Anthony the Great advises that when we learn to discipline our souls to offer thanks for whatever we encounter in the course of life as a part of the mystery of life, as a part of God’s providential ordering of all things, we conform to God’s will and discover peace.
“Gratitude is the awareness that life in all its manifestations is a gift for which we want to give thanks,” says Henri Nouwen. “The closer we come to God in prayer, the more we become aware of the abundance of God’s gifts to us. We may even discover the presence of these gifts in the midst of our pains and sorrows. The mystery of the spiritual life is that many of the events, people, and situations that for a long time seemed to inhibit our way to God become ways of being united more deeply with him. What seemed a hindrance proves to be a gift. Thus gratitude becomes a quality of our hearts that allows us to live joyfully and peacefully even though our struggles continue.”
Each day we have a choice to make when we wake up – will we express gratitude and thanksgiving to God for this particular day with all the blessings that await us, or will we choose to focus on the problems and uncertainties of life, allowing our particular worries to control our worldview? Realize, though, that our choice will reflect the authenticity of our relationship with Jesus Christ and our understanding of our Orthodox Christian faith. To live in Christ, and have His Spirit dwelling within us automatically implies a life of gratitude and thanksgiving!
As we walk with our Lord, from the moment we wake up until the end of each day, our entire outlook in life cannot but be one of appreciation and gratefulness.
We have our loving, merciful and compassionate Creator and Father watching over us, walking with us, guiding us in all our steps, carrying us when we are tired or afraid, comforting us in our moments of distress, and ultimately filling us with His abundant Spirit and continual presence. When we understand and believe all of His precious promises to us, how can we not see life without unceasing gratitude and thanksgiving!
As we celebrated our national holiday of Thanksgiving last week, it’s a great time to reflect on how we cultivate the spiritual discipline of gratitude.
Each day we have a choice to make when we wake up – will we look at life through the lens of gratitude and thanksgiving and see all the blessings that await us, or will we choose to complain about the problems and uncertainties of life, allowing our particular worries to control our worldview? The spiritual discipline of gratitude helps us to discover life from the perspective of God.
God bless each one of us and may we live each and every day with a joyous thanksgiving spirit!