Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. – Colossians 4:2 (NRSV)
Have you ever noticed that the authors of gratitude books have pretty awesome lives? Their literary offspring are always saying cute things about God and life while their supportive spouse works a real job to make the latest self-help masterpiece possible. (“What’s a real job?” you ask. Well, I’d define it as any kind of work that does not involve writing gratitude books.)
Apparently, gratitude is 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?
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 well-being of others.
Dear God, thank you for giving me so much more thanksgiving material than myself. Amen.
Lillian Daniel serves as Conference Minister with the Michigan Conference UCC. She is the author of Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To and When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough.