You Can Keep Your Cheap Gratitude
“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2
Have you ever noticed that the authors of gratitude books have pretty awesome lives? Their literary little offspring are always saying cute things about God and life that make it into the bestselling gift book. You read about some specially supportive spouse whose real job makes the latest self-help masterpiece possible. Hey, I’d be grateful too. (“And what’s a real job?” I hear you ask. Well, I’d define it as any kind of work that does not involve writing gratitude books.)
Apparently, gratitude is now good for our health. The Harvard Mental Health Letter recommends adopting practices like sending thank-you notes, but most of the recommendations are suspiciously solitary endeavors, like meditating, counting your “blessings” and writing in a “gratitude journal.” There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but if no one else is affected by your gratitude, what difference does it make?
Let me be frank. Most of my journal entries would not make for appropriate reading material in a tastefully decorated guest bathroom. Sometimes people suffer ingratitude, even rage, for a reason. There are days when no amount of positive post it notes on the bathroom mirror can push that pain away.
Wealthy foundations pour millions into gratitude research, hoping to fix such attitudes. Excuse me for wishing they would put as much research into the causes of such unhappiness, from poverty to injustice. As a follower of Jesus, I worry whenever the people who have the most start lecturing the people who have the least about gratitude.
Thankfully, gratitude combined with prayer is deeper than obsessing over our own well-being and lifting our own moods. We’re supposed to give thanks despite what is happening, not because of it. Gratitude in the Christian tradition is not all about you or what you feel. It’s about giving thanks anyway, and keeping alert to the wellbeing of others.
Dear God, thank you for giving me so much more thanksgiving material than myself. Amen.
Lillian Daniel’s new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.