The Practice of Gratitude: A Holiday Reflection

By: Rev. Joel A. Jueckstock

It has been said, “There is no amount of darkness that can put out even a small light.” This, however, may be a difficult idea to take-in, as the months of November and December are representative of the holiday season in the United States.

This season is unique, as the culture tends to value opportunities to do well, which is often characterized by a sense of gratitude and hopefulness.

There are red kettles in front of many businesses, food shelves are filling up, people are signing up to serve meals, and many people are willing to give a little extra financially. At times, there is a tremendous sense of gratitude and hopefulness in the air, and it can be both contagious and intoxicating. Nonetheless, the holidays are just as important of a time to be mindful of all that there is to be thankful for. Taking time to express gratitude creates opportunities to pause in the midst of all that life has brought by acknowledging what is good and beautiful, even if it seems little.

When speaking about gratitude, it is natural to hear the question, “What are you grateful for?”

But before anything can be said, you must consider the question: What AM I grateful for? Sure, there may well be plenty of things in life to be grateful for, and these words likely come quickly: relationships with family, friends, co-workers; a job, and food and a roof over your head. Conversations like these may be commonplace during the holiday season. If you find yourself in one of these situations, consider how you really feel before answering, even if you choose a cliché to simply get through the moment.

As one who regularly supports bereaved people in challenging times, I have become increasingly more aware of the universality of grief, loss, and transition in everyone’s daily life.

Grief is an inescapable, miserable reality, and it has been described in many different ways, such as: “The club no one wants to belong to.” If you feel trapped and as if there is no way out, then it may also seem too overwhelming to give thanks. Nevertheless, giving thanks is the first step we must all take, regardless of whether or not hardship and suffering will continue to be encountered daily.

It is in the wreckage of tough emotions, however, that we are also presented with great opportunity to be honest with our emotions, ourselves, our partners, and God. Doing so allows us to appreciate emotions emerging from losses and other challenging circumstances simply will not go away. These are things we carry with us, even if we’d rather not, or pretend that, “I’m OK.”

You have been on a tremendous journey, which has been filled with a host of emotions ranging from overwhelming sadness to glimpses of joy and many things in between.

In light of this, consider one question: What do you want to hold onto and carry with you?

In other words, is there a specific memory, emotion, or positive thought that will help you remember these experiences well, even if it seems little is going well right now?

Having the presence of mind to identify what can be remembered well is no easy thing. In fact, you might even call it a discipline or a practice. This is because you have to decide what you want to carry with you, but by making the practice of giving thanks a habit you will develop a grateful spirit to accompany you day-in and day-out.

When this happens, you will develop a capacity to look beyond the circumstantial positives and be actively engaged in seeking out what is good and beautiful, no matter the circumstance.

A grateful spirit is different from giving thanks in that it is not a static, one-time event; rather, it is a disposition or a state of being.  A grateful spirit is a benefit to us that helps us stay more connected to ourselves and those around us because…  

A grateful spirit is content, and does not live out of entitlement or comparison.

A grateful spirit looks back on life, who you were, and how you’ve grown.

A grateful spirit doesn’t fret about what can’t be controlled or what is most unfortunate in life.

A grateful spirit recognizes what is most important in life, even without speaking it.

A grateful spirit appreciates others in all of their uniqueness.

A grateful spirit has a greater capacity to trust in the seemingly slow, but steady work of God.

If, after reading this and taking some time to consider what you are grateful for, then it is indeed true: There is no amount of darkness that can put out even a small light. Sometimes we just need to look.

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