Gratitude: The Heart of the Christian Life
Today I was reading the story of the ten lepers. You know the one—Jesus heals ten lepers and only one, the Samaritan, comes back to express his gratitude. Even after many years of following God and reading this story, it hits me every time. It hits me because I so easily become like the nine lepers, and take so much of life for granted. Yet gratitude takes nothing for granted. Gratitude is one of the neglected spiritual practices in our time.
I remember worshipping in a small gathering of believers in the highlands of Guatemala, and being amazed at the profound gratitude of these believers who, by my standards, had so little in life. But they were overflowing with gratitude.
What would happen if in every youth group in every church in America, we cultivated a heart of gratitude for life? But first it needs to take deeper root in our own lives. So I am pulling out my gratitude journal and ending each evening the next month with my reflections on gratitude, not just for Thanksgiving day but everyday.
This quote by Thomas Merton captures a lot of what I want for my own heart of gratitude.
Gratitude is more than a mental exercise, more than a formula of words. We cannot be satisfied to make a mental note of things which God has done for us and then perfunctorily thank Him for favors received.
To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is grace, for it brings with us immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder, and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference… Gratitude is therefore the heart of the Christian life. ((Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, quoted by Don Postema in Space for God, 62))