It is an awkward question. We live in a self-help world—we spend most of our time anywhere but here, anytime but now. We find fulfillment in what might be, not what is. We crave plans and products. We are convinced that the solution is in something or someone else. In short, we pray a dyslexic Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to change the things I cannot accept…” Therefore, we consume with reckless abandonment. Yet what if we could stop? What if we could receive the present moment with full acceptance? What if the aim and means of our life was gratitude?
It could be argued that gratitude is the essential duty of the Christian life. As Alexander Schmemann said, “Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.” You might even say we are most ourselves (most fully human) when we are grateful. When we see beauty breaking into the most mundane moments of our day—that is gratitude. Being obsessed with the past is nostalgia, not gratitude. Being fixated on the future is fantasy, not gratitude. Gratitude is elusive, hiding openly in the present moment. When we are not in the present moment we cannot know gratitude; and when we are distracted, afraid, compulsively consuming, or self-centered we are not in the present moment.
How can we foster gratitude as a way of being? Three thoughts come to mind. First, gratitude seems to incubate in solitude, stillness, and silence—to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10). I could say a lot about silence, but that seems ironic. Second, it seems to grow in the dance of receiving and offering—especially with those we are closest to. Common courtesy is essential. It is an odd phenomenon, but as acquaintances grow into friendships and blossom into meaningful relationships, something changes and we assume that we have arrived at some level of permanence. While it is important to realize that those in our life will stick it out with us, we grow comfortable and dispense with the simple intentionality of common courtesy (which had set the conditions for the relationship to grow in the first place). Finally, gratitude blossoms and bears fruit when we live our present life firmly rooted in the future life of the Kingdom. When we face our personal trials and tribulations with the courage and good cheer of those who have found heavenly peace and conviction that Christ has overcome the World (John 16:33). When we find that hope, we find the freedom to fully grieve. It is the avoidance of grief that often fuels our reckless consumption, yet this grief transforms our denial into acceptance and gratitude. So stop and show up. Be still and kind. Weep with God. Receive the gift of gratitude.