10 Ways for Gratitude to Meet Us Right Where We Are
Read time: 9 min | November 21st, 2023
“In all things, give thanks…”
Those words are found in the apostle Paul’s closing to the people of Thessalonica. The commercialization of this phrase has prompted its placement on everything from coffee mugs to bumper stickers. In the purest of intentions, it offers a gentle reminder about the importance of gratitude as a state of being rather than something occasionally visited.
I’ve often wondered how the single parent working two jobs and who feels like they’re suffocating under the weight of everyday life feels when reminded to “give thanks” for all things. Certainly, there are blessings inside this sleepless and worrisome existence, right?
To understand this isn’t too much of a stretch for me, because miles behind me in my past was a time when I never knew how I was going to pay all my bills. Young and single with growing kids, working three jobs to get by and living so deep under the oppressive water of financial pressures that I forgot what it felt like not to perpetually gasp for breath. I’d awaken each morning, and the first thought was “how am I going to pay rent?” and my last thought before sleep finally came was “how am I going to buy groceries?”
This phrase is actually plucked from a collection of verses that, if read in its entirety, hints to Paul’s intentions on a deeper, sacred level:
“12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[c] to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved,[d] to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets,[e] 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. [1 Thessalonians 5: 12-21]”
Paul's closing of this letter sits between blessings and a reminder that faith extends beyond outward displays of worship, of service and—one of the most popular versions of an outward display of faith for the evangelical Christian—judgment of others. Reminiscent of the words found in Proverbs 31 describing the perfect woman that, if any woman attempted to use these verses as a benchmark for success, would never sleep in order to fill all of these roles of the “noble” woman, one could argue that Paul’s closing words could feel more like an unattainable level of enlightenment rather words of encouragement.
Some Christians often reject the notion that our ancient scripture aligns with teachings offered in other world religions. For me, however, when viewed through the lens of a “state of mind” teaching—which is a common framework of many religious teachings—these words of Paul’s sit somewhere between a metta blessing (a sort of “kindness to one’s self” meditation) or a mantra (something repeated to invoke feelings of calm and to encourage a state of presence for the moment).
Originating in Hinduism and Buddhism, the words found in a metta are intentionally designed to elevate the mind above the suffocating details of one’s life to be reminded that comfort can still be found by willingly moving toward the sacred and safe space of the Holy:
“May I be safe—May I be healthy—May I be happy—May I live with ease.”
Similarly, a mantra acts as a gateway to finding a peace of mind when the world offers nothing of the sort. “Love the life you have, nothing lasts forever, no one can take your joy.”
The words contained in a metta or a mantra do not change the circumstances of the individual saying them—they will still be required to go to work to pay the bills. But when said with the intention to find connection to the Holy, the Holy arrives to remind us humans that, indeed, nothing lasts forever.
A person on their way to their second job, sitting at the stoplight and gazing upon the “in all things, give thanks …” bumper sticker on the car in front of them might be inclined to inwardly groan and outwardly offer a less-than-kind gesture toward that sentiment.
But what if we reimagined the words of Paul so that they became our prayer, our mantra, or metta:
The work I do has value.
May I be at peace with those around me.
May no evil surround me.
May I be joyful.
May I be thankful, for in this moment I am breathing and alive.
Spirit is alive in me.
May I hold fast to what is good.
May I only move toward thought and action that serve my highest good.
When we invite gratitude to meet us where we are, gratitude then becomes much more than words placed on a coffee cup. Gratitude is a state of mind, a pause of breath, a place where the Holy meets us right where we are—in our exhaustion, our fear, our successes and our failures.
10 Ways for Gratitude to Meet You Right Where You Are
In the midst of life's challenges, when our hearts are heavy and our spirits weary, it can be difficult to find gratitude. Yet, it is precisely during these times that we need it the most. Gratitude has a remarkable power to transform our perspective, lifting us from the depths of despair to the heights of hope. It is a balm for the soul, a beacon of light that illuminates the darkest corners of our lives.
Here are ten more ways of how we can find gratitude, even when life feels insurmountable:
- Embrace the Gift of Life: Each breath we take is a precious reminder that we are alive. In moments of stillness, pause and feel the rhythm of your breath. With gratitude, acknowledge the incredible gift of existence itself.
- Cherish Simple Pleasures: Amidst life's complexities, seek solace in the simplest of joys. Savor the taste of a warm cup of tea, delight in the touch of a gentle breeze on your skin, or relish the beauty of a radiant sunrise. Find gratitude in these little moments of bliss.
- Appreciate Nature's Majesty: Look around and marvel at the wonders of the natural world. Witness the vibrant colors of a blooming flower, listen to the soothing melodies of birdsong, or lose yourself in the vastness of a star-studded sky. Let nature's magnificence awaken gratitude within you.
- Nurture Relationships: Connect with the people who bring love and warmth into your life. Express gratitude for their presence, whether it's through a heartfelt conversation, a supportive gesture, or a simple "thank you." Cultivate a circle of gratitude and watch it grow.
- Seek Lessons in Challenges: Though difficulties may feel overwhelming, they hold invaluable lessons. Embrace the opportunity to grow and evolve, knowing that these trials can shape you into a stronger and wiser individual. With gratitude, view challenges as steppingstones towards personal transformation.
- Find Beauty in Diversity: Our world is a tapestry of cultures, ideas, and perspectives. Embrace the richness of diversity and learn from one another. Celebrate the unique contributions each person brings, fostering gratitude for the vibrant mosaic of humanity.
- Cultivate a Grateful Mindset: Train your mind to seek gratitude in every situation, no matter how dire. Shift your focus from what is lacking to what is present. Even amidst hardship, there are often hidden blessings waiting to be discovered.
- Practice Self-Compassion: Extend gratitude towards yourself, acknowledging your strengths and resilience. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, recognizing that you are doing your best in the face of life's challenges. Embrace self-care as an act of gratitude towards your own well-being.
- Pay It Forward: Gratitude has a remarkable ripple effect. When you receive kindness or support, pass it on to others. Offer a helping hand, lend a listening ear, or spread positivity wherever you go. By sharing gratitude, you create a world where kindness thrives. Volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter, deliver meals to those living alone, clean up trash on the side of the road. You’ll know what is calling you forward, and helping others has a remarkable impact on our own mental and emotional well-being.
- Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude Daily: Dedicate a few moments each day to reflect on the blessings in your life. Keep a gratitude journal, where you jot down the things you appreciate. As you cultivate this daily practice, you will find that gratitude becomes an integral part of your spiritual journey. And in those moments when life is too heavy and nothing arises for you to write in your journal, just sit and breathe—for sometimes breathing is all we can do.
Remember, dear soul, that finding gratitude does not mean denying pain or dismissing struggles. It is a gentle reminder that amidst the chaos, there is always something to be thankful for. Embrace the power of gratitude, for it has the ability to transform your life, heal your wounds, and illuminate the path ahead.
Gratitude is not an admonishment because you forgot to be thankful.
Gratitude is an invitation to accept comfort while you are on this sacred journey called life. For it is indeed hard, challenging, and worrisome…
For this too shall pass.
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