On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets! Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. Annie Dillard
Having considered gratitude’s surprising blessings, as well as some of the obstacles that can block its flow, how then to develop a perpetual mindset of thankfulness? Is gratitude yet another discipline to be mastered, a potential source of guilt, another daily check box goal that grinds and binds us? No.
After a chat with Chuck Colson one day, off I went to the dentist. Chuck and I had been talking about gratitude, and in passing I mistakenly used the word “discipline” to describe it. Memo to self: Never use an imprecise word with Chuck Colson.
“Gratitude is not a discipline,” he growled, straightening his Prison Fellowship tie pin. “It is the response of the believer to the Spirit’s work.”
Soon after this I left Chuck’s office, arrived at the dentist’s, and settled into the chair. Dr. Funk injected Novocain in my front gum under my nose and in my jaw near my ear. Within a few minutes I couldn’t smell or hear, but I was feeling no pain. Then the doctor called in a dental assistant, and the two of them commenced military operations in my mouth. To remove myself from the stress of the immediate situation, my brain and I entered a deep and reflective meditative state, pondering Chuck’s words.
“He’s quite right,” we thought. Dr. Funk ground away. Tooth fragments flew through the air and settled in a fine dust on my soggy bib. “Gratitude is not a discipline. You can’t fall into the trap of treating it like one. You can’t resolve to be more grateful. Can’t conjure it up by your own determined effort, or it will blow away in the first strong breeze. Can’t go around telling yourself and others that we all must be grateful, we just really must, or you become a nag and no one invites you to Thanksgiving dinner.
“No, if grace is the gift of God, so too is the gratitude that grace creates.”
Ah. My dental-chair epiphany was quite freeing, even after the Novocain wore off. But while a perpetually thankful heart is a gift, receiving it does depend on a discipline or two. Four, actually.
There are four things that we can do to practice the presence of gratitude. When we do, we find that God further uncorks a flood of thankfulness. The four things are quite simple. Any child can do them. So can most adults. First, we remember. Second, we forget. Third, we look up to God. Fourth, we look around to His people.
Adapted from Ellen Vaughn (2009-05-19). Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy through Everyday Thankfulness (Kindle Locations 1604-1624). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.