Cultivating Gratitude

The other morning I woke up with a Scripture verse on repeat in my head.  At first I couldn’t place it, but then I realized it was from Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well,  “If you knew the gift of God…” (John 4:10). I had been talking the night before to a friend who recently had close friends leave the Catholic Church, and so I saw it as a little reminder and nudge to that conversation.

Do we understand what we’ve been given?  I think a lot of people who leave the Catholic Church do so because they don’t know what the Church is. They don’t believe in the Real Presence, or they don’t understand the gift of the sacramental life, and so they leave in ignorance (invincible or vincible, it depends) not realizing what they’re leaving behind.

But the more the Scripture ran through my head that morning, the more I realized it was a good reminder to me—to all of us. If we knew the gift of God… we’d be a lot more grateful.  Every day.  For everything—challenges and blessings, struggles and miracles, the ordinary and the extraordinary.

We live in a society today that tends to believe we are entitled to everything. I’m entitled to a house, a brand new iPhone, and a big screen television because everyone else has one.  If I’m graduating from college, I’m entitled to a six-figure job and three weeks of vacation.  I’m entitled to success. I’m entitled to everything on my own terms and in my own time.

We also live in a society that takes a lot for granted. Perhaps because we are told we’re entitled to so much, we don’t stop to realize that everything is a gift.  I don’t deserve to write for this fantastic e-magazine, Integrated Catholic Life.  I don’t deserve the computer I’m using to type this post. I don’t even deserve to have functioning fingers with which to type!  Everything I have at this moment is a complete gift from God.  My life, my breath, my existence is possible because he loves me and freely gives me that love. I’ve done nothing to deserve it.

If we all lived with this reality in front of our eyes, don’t you think we would behave a little differently?  Wouldn’t our actions, our conversations, and our relationships be anointed with a graciousness and a humility that is often so lacking in today’s world?  Like all the virtues, gratitude is something that needs to be cultivated.

We need to practice saying thank you. Writing thank you notes when we receive presents was probably a good habit taught to us by our mothers. But do we still do it? If not, begin responding to gifts with a prompt little thank you note. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or fancy—just heartfelt.  What about thank you notes for non-tangible gifts? Whether it’s a visit from a friend or a favor from a coworker, make an effort to show your gratitude, even if it’s not something Miss Manners would proscribe you need to do.

The more we say thank you, even just verbally, the more we’ll begin to recognize the gifts in our lives.  I know a husband who does the dishes every night for his wife. Now it’s just expected. But what if she made an effort to verbally thank him for washing the dishes? It’s something that I’m sure we all could begin to take for granted, but if she goes out of her way to thank him, she’ll remember that his service is a gift of love to her.  Likewise, his act of washing the dishes is itself a “thank you” for cooking dinner. But what if he goes out of his way to verbally thank her for dinner?  It’s hard to believe a relationship can’t be helped by these little acts of gratitude, and practicing them will help cultivate the virtue in our lives so that we can see acts of love everywhere.

We’ve all heard the expression “count your blessings,” but how often have you honestly sat down and done so?  A few weeks ago I received the task to do just that as my penance in the sacrament of confession. The priest pointed out that I had obviously taken the time to examine my conscience and count my sins, and now it was time to examine my life and count my blessings.

As I sat in the chapel, I started with the big, obvious blessings. My parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. My health and the health of my family.  My friends, my job, my home. Being born Catholic and the grace of perseverance in the Faith.  After working my way through the big list, I moved to smaller things, and then even to the blessings of that morning.  Waking up in good health, making it to Mass and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, being able to go to Confession.  My car starting and safe travels to Mass.  My breakfast that waited for me at the bagel shop, the people who made it for me…  I finally looked at my watch and realized I needed to get to work. But there were so many blessings I hadn’t named and for which I hadn’t thanked God yet… where could I stop?

Before you go to sleep tonight, stop and thank God for ten blessings in your life.  They may be big or small, obvious or hidden.  Thank him.  Then tomorrow, make the effort to thank the people who cross your path.  Thank your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends for what they do for you or who they are for you.  Thank your coworkers, thank the person who bags your groceries, thank your mailman, thank your waiter. Thank the priest who celebrated Mass or forgave your sins!

Practice saying thank you for the expected things, the mundane things, and the everyday things.  The more we do this, the more we’ll begin to see the gifts even when they’re disguised.  Last year, Randy Hain wrote a great post reminding us that we need to have gratitude for not only our successes and good blessings, but also our challenges.  Maybe today you have many things for which to be thankful, but tomorrow the gifts may be harder to see. Cultivate the gift of gratitude in your life, so that regardless of what comes into your life, you will be grateful for it.

If you knew the gift of God…

Print this entry

About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

Connect with Joannie on:

Author Archive Page