A Journey Toward Gratitude

Nov 14 / Marsha Crockett
One of my favorite gratitude stories in the Bible is the ten lepers who travel to Jesus. As they stand at a distance from him, they ask for healing. In this story, Jesus doesn’t heal on the spot, but simply sends them on their way to the temple to show themselves to the priest as was the tradition of their culture. As they went, they were healed. The story takes a turn when we learn that only one of the ten returned to thank Jesus for this miraculous gift.  

Do you remember the book from the late 1980’s by essayist Robert Fulgham entitled, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? In the essay he identified the basic tenets of getting along in life and living content. They included “share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, take a nap every afternoon…”  

When I hear the story of the grateful leper, I think I would add one more tenet to the kindergarten list: “Say thank you when someone does something kind for you.” Being grateful seems so common, so simple, right? But just like Mr. Fulgham says, “it isn’t necessarily simple, but it is elemental.” Thankfulness is so baseline to spirituality that it barely needs mentioning, except that…it does.  

I have to confess that I am not a naturally grateful person. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped to ask someone for directions, or information in a store and they gladly offer it, and I simply scurry off in the direction they point. More than once, my husband will ask, “Did you say thank you?” Oh, no, I didn’t. It’s been telling of how much I take for granted, and how little I offer my appreciation for the smaller acts of kindness.   

Gratitude can easily slip away if not intentionally practiced. At times, it is replaced by the temptation toward grumbling in its many forms including whining, judging, regretting, complaining, begrudging, and resenting. My favorite form of ingratitude is offering unsolicited advice to “make something better.”

In the New Testament, we are reminded to be grateful over and over. Give thanks in all things…at all times… regardless of circumstances… with thanksgiving in your heart. A reason for the repeated reminders about being thankful is our repeated need to be reminded. 

In the story of the 10 lepers, we see a journey toward gratitude begin to unfold in three ways:
First, it calls for conversion — Conversion is a daily occurrence as we turn from one way of life to another or turning from grumbling to gratitude. In the case of the leper he turned from thinking of himself as an untouchable outcast to a man of faith who drew near to Jesus. In these moments of intentional conversion, we become grateful for transformation, healing and new perspectives on life.  

The second step toward gratitude is awareness — Being present, mindful, and attentive to what each day offers brings us to the place of gratitude. The grateful leper was the one who “saw he had been healed.” No doubt the others realized they too were healed, but to become deeply aware of what the healing implies may be a different thing. So too with us, and the life we live. In the spectacular nuances of nature, of people, of relationships, of work, and play, rest and effort, we can hear, see, touch, taste and proclaim with grateful hearts as we are aware. 

And finally, gratitude assumes a certain posture — The healed leper returned and felt inclined to be at Jesus’ feet. This alignment of the heart is a humbling posture, recognizing it was not in his own power that he was healed. His life of faith was built. A thankful heart recognizes that all we possess, accomplish, and receive, is from the Divine One, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. 

While gratitude may not be simple, or natural, it is elemental and something to practice as we journey forward. And we make this journey as we are converted from grumbling to gratitude, as we become aware and mindful of the ordinary gifts throughout our days, and as we posture our hearts with humility to acknowledge that life is not about our effort or our faith alone, but all is received as gift from the Great Giver of life and love and joy. 

Gratitude Reflection
Is gratitude a natural part of your spiritual practice? 
How might you find new ways of expressing gratitude? 
How has gratitude transformed your life?

Fulghum, R. (1988). All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten: uncommon thoughts on common things. New York, Ivy.
Marsha Crockett
Marsha Crockett is a certified spiritual director, meeting with clients virtually and in Port Orchard, Washington. She is also the author of the recently released book Sacred Conversation: Exploring the Seven Gifts of Spiritual Direction (Upper Room Books). In addition to her direction practice and writing, she leads workshops, retreats, and quiet days of reflection using the framework for the prayer of examen. You can reach her at marsha@marshacrockett.org. Or, follow her on Instagram: @marshakaycrockett.