There are many paths into the Life of the Spirit: through Bible study and focus on God, through meditation or prayer, to name a few, but to me one of the most powerful is gratitude. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of all we’ve been given by God: LIFE ITSELF! which is an incredible gift, talents and gifts, sustenance, the love of God, forgiveness. The proper response to a gift is to say thank you.
Keep a gratitude journal, write at the end of each day what you feel grateful for. This discipline will lead you over time into an awareness throughout your day of things that God is giving you—little helps or prompts, the ease of getting something done, people you met, blessings and more. The gratitude journal may be an exercise, a discipline at first, but it can become a way into a deeper relationship with God as your awareness of God’s blessings in your life grows.
After keeping a gratitude journal for a while, you will find yourself adding things into your life, ritual or meditation or prayer, or giving to others. Because once you have said thank you to God for all of these gifts, then you will want to “pay it forward” as the movie of that name suggests: you will want to bless others’ lives in the same ways that you have been blessed. And you will want to find ways to love God more.
An awareness of the gifts and blessings in our lives leads us deeper into our own lives; we are no longer looking to the surface busyness of our lives for sustenance. Below the surface are the longer arcs of our lives, the slower deeper currents, the agendas of our souls. In the soul we find purpose and meaning as we identify more deeply with the sustaining parts of our lives, we also find much more of God, because the soul is that part of us which communicates with God, which communes with the Spirit, the highest form of that communication.
Focusing on gratitude also highlights the areas and people in our lives for which we are not grateful. Or we may discover that our ability to forgive and to love—ourselves, God and others—is limited. Gratitude, love and forgiveness are a fixed trio—it is impossible for a grateful heart to also contain refusal to forgive or hatred. A grateful heart must only express love. The more we move towards gratitude, the more we become aware of where we are not loving, of those we have not forgiven, including ourselves. This discomfort with the limitations of our gratitude and love highlights where we need to work in order to truly have a grateful heart. Here’s where the deeper relationship with God really pays off—our prayers that this area or that relationship be healed, that our hearts only contain love and forgiveness, joy and gratitude will be answered.
The result of healing these areas where we were not able to love or forgive leads to an expanded heart which can contain everything in our lives—the joy and sorrow, the pain and healing, and people as they are, not as we want them to be. A healed, grateful heart is able to love with God’s own love; there are no more obstacles to loving our lives, ourselves and others.
All these elements of gratitude—living more deeply into our lives, forgiveness of others, God and self, expanding greatly our capacity to love—all lead very naturally to celebration. Out of a grateful heart comes a celebration of everything and everyone we’ve been given. Life itself is celebration! Look to creation for how God celebrated its glory: the incredible variety of species and then variety within each species, the beauty of all life, the interconnectedness of every creature and plant, the love lavished on us all! Let’s celebrate every day!