Gratitude: More than a List


Every year, on Thanksgiving Day, I make a list. A “Thankfulness List”. Over the years, this list has included things like “my book collection” and “a cup of coffee”, as well as more thoughtful things like “my relationship to God” and “my close friends.”

I usually jot it down on Thanksgiving morning….and then don’t think about it again for a long time. Gratefulness is forgotten quickly in the madness of the holiday whirlwind. I may have been thankful, but I lacked gratitude.

Gratitude bespeaks something deeper. It is a beckoning, deep ocean, full of undiscovered gems, while thanksgiving rides the waves above and crashes joyfully, yet briefly, on a sandy shore.

They belong together. Gratitude and thanksgiving. They dance in perfect harmony. But if I only surf on thanksgiving’s waves, I’ll miss the beauty of gratitude’s unexplored wonders.

Thanksgiving means “an expression of gratitude”, according to Webster’s dictionary. Do a quick flip over to the word “gratitude” in the dictionary and discover it means “the state of being grateful.” One of the definitions of “grateful” is “thankful and appreciative” and  “affording pleasure or comfort”. Also, under the word “gratitude” is the word “gratuitous”, an adjective, which means “given without recompense or return; given or received without cost or obligation.”

So, being in a state of gratitude means being appreciative for the pleasures and comforts we enjoy that are given to us without cost or obligation to us. We recognize our lives are full of gifts. We don’t pay for these gifts; they come to us from God.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” James 1:18

Yet, another part of the state of gratitude, in my mind, is indeed realizing that no gift is ever truly free. Freedom comes with a price. Love requires sacrifice. Peace means forsaking selfish gains.

A soldier’s family can tell you the cost of freedom of speech. A family can give testimony to the high cost of staying together through turbulent times. Your friend knows the sacrifice of energy given when you needed her the most.

When we express our gratitude, we acknowledge the price that someone paid for the gifts we enjoy. Making a list is like riding a wave. It’s fun and good, but it doesn’t necessarily stay with us. We invite gratitude into our everyday lives and let our actions reflect our hearts. With gratitude as a key component to my life, I honor the price that was paid to give me these good things.

Gratitude means loving unconditionally because every person in our lives has value.

Gratitude means welcoming new friends, without forsaking old ones, because its embrace is all encompassing.

Gratitude means I hold my tongue from saying hurtful things because I realize I don’t know the whole story and understand there is a bigger picture.

Gratitude means I remain hopeful in bad situations and realize that God works in every moment for the good.

Gratitude means I eat all my vegetables, even if I’d rather just eat French fries, because I recognize that food is a precious commodity.

Gratitude means I don’t stay angry at the world for being cruel and heartless at times because I know that God has redemptive plans for the future.

Gratitude expands our view of the world and compels us to do something for the kids in poverty, the women living in oppression, and the elderly in need of attention.

Gratitude opens our eyes to the beauty of God’s creation and motivates us to take better care of the planet.

Gratitude reaches out to those who are different from us and says, “What can I learn from this person?”

Gratitude overflows into generous acts because, as Father Richard Rohr wrote, I desire to “humbly and proudly return what I’ve been given.”

Gratitude isn’t selfish. When I have a grateful outlook, I tend to be a little less selfish. I’m ready to share. Ready to give. Ready for generosity.

Gratitude does not ignore the prices paid, the sacrifices endured, or the pain suffered. Rather, it scoops all the sorrow and grief and hurt into its giant, loving arms and carries the burden for us. We can rest in knowing that life is good, life is a gift, and life is from God. In this knowledge, we move confidently forward to the day when all things will be restored and renewed. Gratitude points us to the future and gives us a hope, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote in Scripture.

My goal this year is to practice living in gratitude. I don’t want to give a mere lip service. I don’t want to jot down a few notes in a journal and be done with thanksgiving. I want to wake up each day, see the gifts I’ve received, and never take them for granted. I want this prayer to be a motto of my life:

“I ask Thee for a thoughtful love, through constant watchings wise,

And a heart at leisure from itself

To soothe and sympathize.” –A.L. Waring

Gratitude is more than words on a list.

It means living life…

with loving words…

with thankful actions…

and peaceful hearts.

Let’s ride the waves of thanksgiving…and swim in the ocean of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.


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