by Megan Jones
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”
— Meister Eckhart 1260-1327 (German theologian, philosopher and mystic)
For Lutherans, gratitude is not just a noun. It is both something we have and something we do. It is the way we live into relationship with God. Gratitude is what Martin Luther called “the basic Christian attitude.”
Because God is the Creator of all good things, because God loves us wholly and without condition, because God is full of grace, we respond in gratitude. We are freed by God to live our lives abundantly, to see all that we are and all that we have as pure gift. God’s love is pure gift. How could we respond with anything other than gratitude?
It doesn’t make sense that we should respond with anything other than gratitude. Unless of course, we get confused and begin to believe that we ourselves have done or said something that merits God’s love. It is impossible to lack gratitude in light of all that God has done for us, unless of course, we buy into the notion that we somehow deserve all that we have because we’ve earned it, because we’ve worked so hard.
How could it be anything other than gratitude? Unless, you are convinced that God’s love is meant for your neighbor, your friends, but not for you. How can you feel grateful to God when you believe, deep in your heart that you don’t deserve to be loved, that you aren’t good enough? How could God possibly love you when you don’t love yourself?
It’s true that gratitude does come more easily for some than for others. Some of us have to be reminded that gratitude can be a choice and gratitude can be cultivated. Worship is a great example of an opportunity to practice being grateful. It is time set apart for praising God. We worship God because we believe that God is worthy of thanksgiving. It is a reminder, a public, communal witness, to the truth we are called to trust in. God really is God at all times and in all places. God is with us and for us, on mountaintops and in valleys. God abides in us. God reaches out to us in love over, and over, and over again. God is God, even when we think we are. God is God, despite our fears and our doubts. God is the faithful one in this relationship. God holds fast to us, no matter what. And God’s people have needed to reminded of that in every generation.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:35, 38-39)
It is out of this truth that we are called to live. We practice gratitude in prayer and song and liturgy. We acknowledge God as Creator of All and Author of Our Lives. If all that we are and all that we have are given to us in love, then we must share what we have from that love. Jesus calls us to give, time and time again. The wealth of this world is so fleeting and so confusing and is no measure of one’s value. Generosity, humility and service are marks of a grateful disciple. Gratitude is both something we have and something we do. It is a way of life.
“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 (German theologian professor and Lutheran pastor)
I don’t remember my first Christmas. It was a long time ago, and as you might imagine, I was quite young. But I’ve heard the story so many times that it is now a part of me and feels like something I’ve always known somehow. Good stories are like that.
I am the youngest child of five and a bit of surprise, I’m told. Four was the plan. You know how plans go. My siblings have never been shy about telling me that, though they were scandalized by their old mother (she was 34) getting pregnant, they were in fact, very excited to have a new baby. My brother Parry had been the youngest for seven years when I was born. It was a position of some privilege and if he understood that at all, he didn’t let it get in the way of his love for me. So on my very first Christmas, my 7-year-old brother gave me a tricycle. He found it abandoned by the railroad tracks behind our house. He cleaned it up, inflated the tires and attached a bell to the handle bars. He put that tricycle under the tree and on Christmas morning he was so excited to show it to me. I was two months old.
Needless to say, I didn’t recognize the gift or the love with which it was given. I literally had no words to express my feelings and no clue how to respond to this wonderfully generous gift. It was too extravagant – too much for me to take in.
I love “remembering” this story for so many reasons. But as I share it with you now, I am struck by the fact that my big brother was already dreaming dreams for me that I couldn’t yet dream for myself. He was anticipating the sister who would one day learn to ride a bike and run and play with him. He was imagining a big beautiful life for me from the very beginning. I didn’t get it then, but I get it now and I am so full of gratitude.
The Rev. Megan Jones is child of God living in Chicago and loving it. She is a voracious reader and owns three English Springer Spaniels. A former campus pastor, Megan is currently on leave from call and hopes to share her gifts with a congregation in the very near future.
Questions for discussions
1) In what ways do you show gratitude to God?
2) What gets in the way of your ability to feel/show gratitude?
3) How can we cultivate a culture of gratitude in Christian community?
4) Can you remember a time when you felt deep gratitude for God’s love? How did you express that?