By Rev. Sandy Nenadal
Assistant to the Bishop
As October turns into November, I have unsurprisingly found myself reading devotions and articles about gratitude. In one of my devotional books, the author focused on his experience of giving thanks for blessings during a bike ride. He found the naming of blessings energized his ride.
In another devotional resource, the author focused on the story in Luke 17 of the ten lepers who asked Jesus to heal them. While nine were healed, only one returned to thank Jesus. Jesus declared that man was more than healed. Jesus said his faith had saved him. The Samaritan man’s act of gratitude brought not just healing but wholeness.
Reading these authors’ works reminded me of an experience that happened some years ago. While giving a devotion, a colleague spoke of how a grateful spirit can impact our lives. She also gave us a notebook to record our blessings. The idea came from the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. While amid a spiritual search for joy, a friend dared Ann to create a list of one thousand things she loved. Ann decided to take up the dare by creating a list of one thousand gifts from God.
Ann noticed the first items on her list were ordinary things, like the cry of a blue jay or the sight of jam on toast. Writing them down on paper prompted the realization she was looking at a list of gifts God had bestowed on her. The practice made her happy and led her on a quest to understand the impact of gratitude in her life.
When my colleague gave me the notebook, I attempted the practice but failed to keep at it. I was not disciplined in practice. Then my husband discovered he had cancer. I decided to record my blessings as a way to face the challenges ahead. I knew I would need something positive to focus on during his treatments. My list also began with simple things: nausea medicine for my husband, seeing cardinals at our bird feeder, and sunshine after a rainy day. When church members brought food or sat with my husband, I added them to the list. Writing down my blessings lifted my spirit, especially after a tough day.
While these ordinary blessings might seem of little consequence, Voskamp discovered writing them down is the first step in learning the lesson the Apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians 4:11: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Learning, she noted, requires practice, so we must practice giving thanks until it becomes second nature. That practice begins with taking notice of God’s gifts.
This month, why not consider making a list of God’s blessings? After some time off, I have made it a point to begin listing my blessings again. Many seem small, like the recent rain, the fantastic color of trees in the fall, or seeing a Northern Flicker at the bird feeder. Still, writing them down reminds me God’s blessed me once again. That is why making a list of our reasons to be grateful is part of the discipline. Be sure not just to name them but also to offer God your thanks for the blessings you listed.
Author Rick Hamlin suggests that “Of all the means of prayer, gratitude is one of the easiest.” (Ten Prayers You Can’t Live Without, New York: Guideposts, 200) In addition, making a list and offering God thanks are two ways to put 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 into practice. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”