Jesus was not born into a privileged life. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and did not live under easy circumstances. But he still lived in gratitude. In fact he made giving thanks for life a foundational dynamic of his teaching. He seemed surprised by other people’s inability to live happy, fulfilling lives with little or no gratitude. “Why do you worry so much about what you eat, what you wear?”
He was asking this question of some pretty marginalized people who were obviously struggling to make ends meet. You may recall the Sermon on the Mount or Plains in this case from Luke that often gets ignored by people of material substance.
“Congratulations you poor! For God’s domain belongs to you.”
Congratulations, you who are hungry! For you have a feast.
Congratulations, you who weep! You will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-6)
So what gives with all of this? Is this guy some kind of a Pollyanna fool? Was he on drugs? Or does he know something that so many of us seem to miss? What in the world did he have to be thankful for, for God’s sake?
Of course we must remember that Jesus was coming from a long tradition of offering thanks to God in all things. Jews were taught that we should give thanks and be grateful for just about everything-even the difficult lessons in life. The Judeo/Christian scriptures tell us in over 130 places that we ought to give thanks or express our gratitude for our blessings. It is a foundational part of our tradition.
Paul suggests that Jesus’ whole life was a statement of thanks for the experience of living in an intimate relationship with God. Jesus lived in a state of gratitude for the experience and the relationship he had with the Creator who is present in all life and the Creation which will provide for all of our needs if we trust it.
I believe that Jesus teaches thankfulness or gratitude as a dynamic action or attitude that can change your life. Living with thankfulness is not just about things that we have acquired or have been given. It is not even about good things that have happened. Being in-thankfulness is a way of living. It is a way of being aware. It is a way of being conscious. It is a way of discovering a new perspective; a new reality.
I suspect that one of the most difficult things to accept is how one-dimensional we often are in our thinking. We tend to think in terms of the material. We become score keepers for life based on things we think of as measurable. When we are thankful it is usually for things and events when we get what we thought we wanted. We measure how many bad things happened this year, how may goods things and we tend to focus on the bad things. Did I get the promotion? Did we get the house we wanted? Did I have a fight with my spouse? We compare our selves to others to decide if we are happy or thankful. How did we match up this year? But there is seldom enough and when there is, it tends to be temporal or impermanent. Unfortunately, what was enough last year, often does not seem to be enough this year.
This way of being ignores the multi-dimensions of existence-those things that bring us a more fulfilling happiness if we are open to them, i.e. beauty, grace, love, growth, intimacy. All too often, I suspect we pay less attention to what is happening in our relationships, to our souls, in the very essence or the beauty of the Creation that is all around us and within us then we do to our financial balance sheet. We concern ourselves far too much with how we are matching up with others.
In other words we look to something outside of ourselves, to measure if we are happy and thankful, rather than what is happening on the inside.
The second thing this kind of thinking ignores is that every day provides an abundance of lessons for life; every day can be a teacher. Let’s face it. Most of us know that some of our most painful experiences provide our greatest and often most profound lessons. We don’t necessarily choose to go through them but we can decide to learn what we can from them with a faith that says, someday I will look back on this and realize that there was an incredible gift in this experience.
But the most difficult thing to understand about the dynamic of living in a state of thankfulness is that we are led by our intentions.
Gary Zukav writes, “What you intend is what you become.” He goes on to explain; “The creation of physical experience though intention, the infusion of Light into form, energy into to matter, soul into body, are all the same” It is one process.
In other words, our motivations, our intentions, our very thoughts can impact what we become, and what we experience as individuals. Think about that very real possibility. Our thoughts, our intentions, our motivations, and our attitudes can dramatically alter the future of our lives and we have control over those things. That can be a very scary thought or very liberating one.
What if we started every day with gratitude or thanks? How might that impact the course of our lives, our experiences and our health?
After Piglet and Pooh had been walking in silence for a while, Piglet asked, “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what is the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh.
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
I am not sure who is going to have a “better” day but I am certain that Piglet is going to have a more exciting one.
Maybe you are not a morning person, but I suspect most people would discover that their day goes a little better if they started it with a prayer of thanks for the day that is going to come. Macrina Wiederkehr writes that she starts her day with the following prayer:
Your roots have found me
I am bursting with life
I feel like a brand new bud
Singing gratefully to you…
…I will preach the gospel
of silence joyfully
as I burst forth hopefully
into sacred space
of this new day knowing full well
this is only a pale glimmer
of the Life I am becoming
So Full of Life Am I!
Macrina Wiederkehr tells us that learning to live in gratitude is a way of being. It is a way of perceiving reality. It is a way of thinking as much as it is a way of doing. And if we believe that we have something to look forward to, to be thankful for, the chances are good that we will. In other words, not only is it good to give thanks for what has occurred, but modern science and spiritual teachers for eons have been telling us that our future will be effected by our thankfulness for what will be.
This week when you celebrate Thanksgiving, why not make it a true holiday, a holy day. Think of the things you have to be thankful for in the moment. And give thanks. And think of the future with unlimited possibilities. And be thankful for the lessons and the gifts that you will receive. Somewhere along the way you may you discover that you are shaping what you are becoming by living in a state of thankfulness. And then you, like Macrina Wiederkehr, will know that you are not only a glimmer of the Life that you are becoming, but you are full of life indeed.