How to Incorporate the Gift of Gratitude Into Your Daily Life
Many years ago, I hung a homemade sign over my door that said, “Dedicate Yourselves to Gratitude.” I suppose it was my hope that I would live each day grateful for what God has given and will provide. I wanted those words—Paul’s Letter to the Colossians—to serve as a motto for my life. I also knew I needed a reminder! Catholic Relief Services tells us “Gratitude is a gift from God. It gives us a way to respond to the Creator. With it, God gives us a way to respond to the brother who gives us a gift, to the sister who tends to a wound.” What a beautiful way to live, and yet for too many of us—myself included, “thanksgiving” is understood only as a holiday in November or an act that is relegated to notes our parents taught us to write. No wonder Scripture offers keen insight into practicing gratitude and its importance.
No matter what Jesus did in His public ministry—healing the sick, loving the poor or challenging authority—He was always teaching. The parable of the "Cleansing of the Ten Lepers" offers another valuable lesson, one I have never forgotten. If you are attentive to human nature, you will see just how true it is.
In Luke 17: 11-19, we read:
"As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met [him]. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, 'Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!' And when he saw them, he said, 'Go show yourselves to the priests.' As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, 'Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?' Then he said to him, 'Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.'"
A response rate of one in ten isn't very good. Jesus heard their plea; He dramatically changed their lives and 90% of them moved on. Further probing into this story reveals that the one who returned to extend gratitude is the least likely of them all—a Samaritan.
Abraham Lincoln said, “The wisest person in the room is the one who is grateful.” Indeed this leper was wise—not only in giving thanks, but also in his choice to return to the source of healing, to the one who gave, to the one we know as “the way, the truth and the life. “
Exercising Gratitude Through Prayer with Scripture
The parable of the “Ten Lepers” is a passage of Scripture worth praying with regularly. However, I believe it’s also worth considering those parts of this Gospel story that are untold. Ignatian Contemplation, a method of prayer in the tradition of Ignatius of Loyola, offers us a unique and valuable way to pray with the Gospel.
In "Ignation Contemplation: Imaginative Prayer", Kevin O’Brien, SJ writes:
Ignatius was convinced that God can speak to us as surely through our imagination as through our thoughts and memories. In the Ignatian tradition, praying with the imagination is called contemplation. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, contemplation is a very active way of praying that engages the mind and heart and calls up both thoughts and emotions. (Note that in other spiritual traditions, contemplation has quite a different meaning: it refers to a way of praying that frees the mind of all thoughts and images.)
Ignatian contemplation is suited especially for the Gospels. Let the events of Jesus’ life be present to you right now. Visualize the event as if you were making a movie. Pay attention to the details: sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings of the event. Lose yourself in the story, and, at some point, place yourself in the scene.
Contemplating a Gospel scene is not simply remembering it or going back in time. Through the act of contemplation, the Holy Spirit makes present a mystery of Jesus’ life in a way that is meaningful for you now. Use your imagination to dig deeper into the story so that God may communicate with you in a personal, evocative way.
Certainly, this passage of Luke’s Gospel offers much to imagine. But to think further about gratitude and its importance, consider imagining what is unscripted.
In your prayer, imagine that you are already in Jesus’ presence. Maybe you are talking or sharing a meal. Suddenly a healthy man (or woman) returns and falls at the feet of Jesus. He (or she) praises Him at this moment. Looking at this man (or woman) who is now healed, what do you notice?
What was that like for him or her to be in the presence of the Lord as healed and whole?
How does Jesus respond? What does He say?
How do they part ways?
What is stirring in your heart?
Availing ourselves of Sacred Scripture is an important spiritual exercise. Reading the Bible has helped me grow in my understanding of Jesus and the significance of his message. The fruit of this spiritual discipline is my ever-increasing love for Jesus. I feel as though I know him more intimately and personally because I have read His family history and lineage. I have a better understanding of the faith tradition from which he came and I know what changes he sought to offer. I hear the Word proclaimed at Mass, but I also aim to read the daily Gospel as part of my morning routine. I am grateful for the quiet time with the Lord—reflecting upon the Word and how He is calling me to live.
A Spiritual Discipline
Expressing gratitude and thanksgiving is another important spiritual exercise. When we practice them, we're happier, more optimistic and have a lower risk for depression and anxiety, as shown by scientific studies. It also deepens appreciation and cultivates joy. I try to model gratitude (and joy) for my students and my athletes. Our homes, work environments, parishes and teams ought to be places where we all can feel cared for, respected, loved and appreciated. There is so much to be grateful for!
But every parent, teacher, leader, coach knows that life gets busy. Indeed, the demands of running a family, school, or team are many. It is very easy to become overwhelmed or disappointed in one another, and ourselves. They say, “attitudes are contagious,” and I don’t want my athletes to catch a negative one.
In the Seven Keys to Spiritual Wellness, Joe Paprocki writes:
“You can displace negative behaviors by displacing them with positive behaviors. One of the most effective ways to do this is by focusing on gratitude. Often when I feel compelled to engage in some behavior that is vapid at best and negative at worst, I make a gratitude list. I make a list of all the time I am grateful for. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. You quickly realize just how blessed you are and how grateful you are for these blessings. Before you know it, the gratitude has literally displaced any feelings of discontent. It’s very scientific!”
To prevent “the daily grind” from becoming all I see and try to get through, I keep a gratitude journal. It’s not that complicated, but here are some tips to cultivate this habit. If you do, the fruit of your efforts are not only in your heart, but something you can hold in your hand.
Keys to Success
At the end of the day or week, make an effort to sit down in the same place and write down what you are grateful for.
This can be a one-word response—the name of a friend or a family member. Maybe you want to recall a meaningful conversation you had during the day or a beautiful sunset. Your entry might be a simple moment or a profound realization. Be as descriptive as you want.
It is helpful to record your gratitude in the same place (again, at the same time).
I developed a habit of writing my thanks in a journal on a table next to my favorite chair. This place is now like a sanctuary for me. It’s comfortable, and relatively free of distractions. Most of the time, I am alone in this space; it’s a place I have committed to writing in my gratitude journal.
I think it’s important to date each entry. You will look back over the year and remember things you will have forgotten. Over time, you may even notice certain patterns that emerge.
For example, I have taught for 14 years now, and in that time some years and groups or students have been more memorable than others. However, the gratitude journal has helped me realized what is so special about each and every class.
Share the Fruits of Your Devotion to Gratitude
Encourage your prayer group or a loved one to write a gratitude journal. Should you decide to pray together, itl is something you can read from or reference. When it’s a loved one’s birthday or a special event, I have discovered my gratitude journal is a wonderful resource! The effort I put forth in capturing those memories has yielded great fruit.
I still remember the day I received my First Holy Communion. My mom made my dress. Family traveled far and wide to join me for a special day in the life of every Catholic. To this day, I have the banner that hung in St. Mary’s Church, and I remember the prayer that I said after receiving the Eucharist. I returned to the assigned seat in my pew, folded my hands in prayer and said but two words: thank you. At the time, I felt that my prayer was insufficient. Considering the parable of the Ten Lepers, I think differently now. As Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer you ever pray is “thanks,” that is sufficient."
Let us give thanks and say it. Our lives will speak much differently if and when we do.