Practicing gratitude: Receiving and giving with grateful hearts
By Erik Alsgaard
Melinda Trotti was nervous.
|A return to the Camp Colby and Retreat Center, where wildfire damage has been repaired, brought gratitude to guests and staff alike.|
|COURTESY CAMP COLBY|
As director of Colby Camp and Retreat Center, located in the mountains just north of Los Angeles, Trotti was responsible to ensure the facility was ready for its first guests in nearly three years.
In 2009, a massive wildfire known as the Station fire, damaged the United Methodist camp and made it unusable. It had been a long road back, and Trotti, who began serving as camp director in February, knew that not everything was quite as it should be when the guests arrived.
"I was focused on how much we had yet to do" when they arrived, said Trotti. "But that didn't last long."
That's because the camp's first guests — a Mennonite church on a family retreat — didn't focus on what wasn't ready, but on being thankful for what they had.
"They had approached me because they had regularly come here before the Station fire," said Trotti. "They wanted to come back."
"The first meal, on Saturday morning, I thanked them for being part of the resurrection story here at Colby," she continued. "At Sunday lunch, they told me that they wanted me to know that Colby was part of their resurrection story, too. It had been years since they had done a family retreat, and they wanted to thank us for bringing new life to their church family."
A spiritual discipline
Gratitude is in the spotlight every year around Thanksgiving Day in the United States. However, more attention is being paid to cultivating that attitude as a lifelong, year-round spiritual discipline.
|Rev. Ken Sloane|
"Gratitude is one of the first results of a spiritual self-examination," said the Rev. Ken Sloane, director of stewardship and connectional ministries at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.
"Teaching stewardship begins with that self-examination," he said. "It focuses our thoughts on what we have, not on what we don't have."
The self-examination can also help shift the focus from what the church needs in terms of dollars and cents, to looking at what we have received, how God has blessed us, Sloane said. And when we see how God has indeed blessed us, we are grateful.
"When grown from the spirit of gratitude, stewardship is no longer seen as some ‘bitter pill' that needs to be swallowed," he said.
Scripture both mandates and offers expressions of gratitude. Thank offerings have an early place in the Bible. Leviticus 7:12-18 instructs how to make a thanksgiving offering. Ephesians 5:20 says, "Always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Common English Bible). Psalm after psalm begins with thanksgiving.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, realized that gratitude was the response to faith in God.
In his sermon, "The Unity of the Divine Being," preached in Dublin in April 1789, Wesley said that true religion is "right tempers towards God and man.
"It is, in two words, gratitude and benevolence; gratitude to our Creator and supreme Benefactor, and benevolence to our fellow creatures. In other words, it is the loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves."
Gratitude towards the Creator, Wesley added, "cannot but produce benevolence to our fellow creatures."
John Kralik knows this for a fact. In 2007, Kralik felt his life was falling apart. On Jan. 1, 2008, he was inspired to write a thank-you note to someone every day for a year. The practice changed his life.
"I learned to be grateful for the life I had," Kralik writes on his website (http://365thankyounotes.com), "recognizing that the love I had for my children made my life already richer than the many people I envied. I became thankful for the many people around me who dealt with challenges far greater than the ones facing me."
Kralik chronicled his journey in his book, A Simple Act of Gratitude (Hyperion). It inspired the Rev. Robert Long to institute "A Year of Gratitude" at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.
Saying ‘thank you'
The Rev. Jack Harnish, senior pastor at Birmingham (Mich.) First United Methodist Church, finds his definition in his now "dog-eared and faded" paperback copy of Dag Hammarskjold's book, Markings, which he picked up in 1968 for $2.95.
|Rev. Jack Harnish|
|COURTESY BIRMINGHAM (MICH.) FUMC|
"His simple statement sums up the meaning of gratitude for me," Harnish said. "‘For all that has been — Thanks! To all that shall be — Yes!'"
Learning to live in a spirit of gratitude means being able to give thanks in all things and to approach the future with hope and trust, Harnish said. "Gratitude means living in a way that says ‘for all that has been — thanks.' And then to anticipate what God will do in the future with confidence and assurance, 'to all that shall be — yes!'"
Harnish's staff and congregation foster an attitude of gratitude by offering words of praise for the service that people give and by celebrating the gifts of God seen in God's people. "The highlight of the annual church conference is the presentation of the ‘Volunteer of the Year' award," he said, "which honors persons who have given dedicated service during the year. It's a way of saying ‘In this church, we say thank you.'"
The Rev. Erik Alsgaard is editor of the Michigan Area Reporter and pastor of St. Ignace (Mich.) United Methodist Church.
|When Hartzell Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Slidell, La., gathered for worship after Hurricane Katrina, Ella Doyle lifted her head in prayer and told fellow parishioners to "hold your head up. God's got a better day coming." She rode out the storm in a boat with her family.|
|UMNS File Photo/Mike DuBose|