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Thanks-giving: Gratitude as a spiritual practice

Updated: Nov 27, 2023


READ

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalm 100:4

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? -1 Corinthians 10:16

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. - Philippians 4:6


I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. -1 Timothy 2:1


8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. 12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. - John 6:8-13


REFLECT

There are a lot of reasons not to celebrate Thanksgiving. For one, the mythical origin story of Pilgrims and Indians sitting around a table that erases our ancestors’ roles in ethnic cleansing and land theft, is not a story I wish to propagate. On the other hand, the contemporary focus on consumerism--Black Friday deals, endless football entertainment and copious amounts of food—is not a great alternative. So as a person who wants to live honestly and authentically practice my faith in Jesus, the only thing I can think of, is to celebrate the word itself—thanks-giving. It is through gratitude that we can turn this national (colonialist, capitalistic) holiday into a day of spiritual significance.


Melody Beattie, self-help and recovery author, aptly summarizes the importance of practicing gratitude. She writes, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”


As I approach Thanksgiving, amid grocery shopping and feast preparing, I find myself naturally gravitating towards gratitude. I am thankful for the time and ability to rest and eat good food with family members, but even more so I have gratitude for all of the people that keep our family thriving throughout each week—the children’s teachers, administrators, and babysitters, the pastors at our local church, the grocers, cleaners, landscapers, garbage collectors and mail deliverers, the fitness instructors and store clerks, our employers and clients, the public workers who keep our city functioning, and our friends and neighbors that make each day enjoyable.


Once I set my heart toward gratitude, the list of blessings can go on and on. And in counting my blessings, I recognize that it has taken a village, no--It has taken people from around the world, and from generations past, to provide me with the abundance and freedom I have today. When I look through the lens of gratitude, the whole world and all of time is connected. As I recognize this universal connectedness, I start to ask, how am I making the world a better place, how am I using my privilege and abundance to benefit others? In the worldview of gratitude, I give from a place of joy and responsibility rather than guilt or shame. I can give freely, not worrying whether my gift will be enough, or be used as I anticipated, or make a difference. I can give with hope that God is in the giving and the receiving, and just like the boy who offered his two fish, I can offer whatever I have, and God can multiply it.



RESPOND

Spend a few minutes making a list of all the people that have influenced and improved your day-to-day life. Who cares and protects you, your community, your family, your freedom? Is there anyone God is encouraging you to thank with a note, gift or call?


Ms. Beattie wrote that “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Spend some time thanking God for God’s faithfulness in the past. Notice some ways you recognize God’s presence in your life today, then ask for a vision for tomorrow. Is there anyone with who God is calling you to share your abundance or invite to the table? As you meditate on the faithfulness of God and the connectedness of life, determine if you feel called to lament, repent, serve or give.


REST

God, I am so grateful for your love, faithfulness, and provision. May I have eyes to see the blessings in my life and the courage to offer what I have so that I may bless others. Amen.



A Gift for You

I'm so thankful for you. Please download a free copy of our Advent devotional Prayerful Reflections and read along with a community of believers from December 1-January 5.



About the author

Julia Styles lives in Atlanta with her two little kids, Zoe and Jakob, and her husband Derek. She loves to talk real life with real people and offers a safe space for seekers and questioners through Spiritual Direction and Leadership Coaching. Julia is the founder and editor of Prayerful Reflections--a way to connect with scripture, learn from female theologians and leaders, and connect with the divine.


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