Give Thanks, Always

Author: Karl O. Lawrence
July 19, 2018

In choosing gratitude as the theme for this essay, I discovered that I quite accidentally hit the proverbial “mother lode” on a topic of significant moment for one’s spiritual and psychological health and well-being. In mining for coal, gold, silver, oil or other minerals, the mother lode describes a rich, important, major, or profitable source. With gratitude we have a major, inexhaustible topic for reflection in regard to one’s spiritual and emotional life.
Gratitude also happens to be the subject of serious academic research, spawning scholarly papers such as: “5 Ways Science Increases Gratitude and Well-being,” “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention” and “How Gratitude Just Might Save Your Life.” Who knew?
The proximate trigger for my current interest in the topic is my recent personal experience—a diagnosis and ongoing treatment of a serious illness. At a time like this most people go through an emotional roller coaster akin to the modified Kubler-Ross “7 Stages of Grief” which my wife shared with me:
Shock (initial paralysis at hearing the bad news); Denial (trying to avoid the inevitable); Anger (frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion); Bargaining (seeking in vain for a way out); Depression (final realization of the inevitable); Testing (seeking realistic solutions) and Acceptance (finally finding the way forward).
For a religious person, diagnosis of a serious illness almost inexorably leads one to reflect on one’s priorities, beliefs and commitments.
So, I’ve been reflecting on Saint Paul’s counsel to the then newly formed church in Thessalonica as recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
“Be always joyful; pray continually; give thanks whatever happens [or as the NRSV renders it, “give thanks in all circumstances”]; for this is what God in Christ wills for you” (NEB).
Being always joyful, thankful in all circumstances, and praying continually are imperatives for the follower of Christ—no qualification as to when or in what particular circumstances we put these Christian disciplines into practice.
I don’t know about you, but joy and gratitude don’t always flow naturally or spontaneously from me under “normal” circumstances, much less in stress filled times. Temperament, you see, plays a big role in how one responds to circumstances, extreme or otherwise. So I find it encouraging that gratitude is a virtue that I can indeed cultivate.
While preparing this essay I was reminded of something my grandmother used to tell us; perhaps your mom or dad or grandparent told you some version of “in every cloud there’s a silver lining” or as a couple of psychologists put it, “Even bad experiences at least teach us something.”
A favorite Christian author of mine has this to say about 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.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 33 (1956)

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