A Spirituality of Gratitude
My childhood dog was a yellow lab named Blondie. She was the most energetic, playful dog you can imagine. She had a good heart but was super disobedient. She’d always dig her way under the fence, no matter how many rocks we lined it with. And after the time she jumped in our neighbor’s pool we finally got an electric fence. That didn’t exactly stop her though. I remember one summer day when I was in high school. I was the only one home and Blondie escaped to that same neighbor’s yard. I chased her around their garden, she thought we were playing, and finally got hold of her. As I dragged her back to our yard, I noticed the big metal part of her collar was choking her neck. I felt bad, and I turned it so that my hand was holding the metal part and wouldn’t choke her. And I kept pulling. Well, when we crossed the electric fence line, I got shocked! I immediately let go and Blondie immediately took off again. I shouted, “You ungrateful little!” I eventually caught her again, and this time made sure not to touch the metal piece and dragged her back home.
I guess dogs don’t exactly realize when they’re being ungrateful. She probably had no comprehension that I was doing her a favor when I held the metal piece so it wouldn’t choke her. She was just a dog doing what dogs do. But it’s not just a dog thing. A lot of people don’t seem to understand the value of gratitude and thankfulness either.
In the Gospel passage we read this morning, we see a prime example of nine individuals forgetting the value of gratitude. In this passage Jesus cleanses ten lepers and only one returns to thank him. It’s interesting to note the one returning leper is a Samaritan, probably the least likely to be grateful in the eyes of Jesus’ disciples. It’s not that the other nine were unhappy with Jesus. Maybe they immediately ran back to their families. Maybe they were so full of joy that they forgot about everything else. The problem is they were so excited about their newfound health that they lost track of what really matters and forgot to keep in mind the one responsible for their healing. They were so distracted by their happiness that they forgot to demonstrate their gratitude and thankfulness.
Have you ever been so excited about something that you’ve forgotten to thank the person who gave it to you? Like a kid opening up birthday presents, so caught up in the moment that he forgets to say thank you until mom reminds him. I think that’s kind of what this story is about. In the ups and downs of life, we can be less mindful of God when we’re up. When things are going well and life is running smoothly, we sometimes forget about God. Sure we might remember to go through the motions, but it’s more often the refinement of dark nights that help see God. In some strange way it seems that it’s through our suffering that we most often find God.
So perhaps the point here is to pay attention when things are going well, and not let your happiness distract you from God. We should be aware enough and wise enough to recognize our blessings and give thanks. Being mindful of our gifts and blessings is an important part of being a mature Christian. In both the best and worst experiences of life, mindfulness and gratitude have a way of grounding us and keeping us balanced. A spirituality of gratitude is one of the most important practices we can do. Counting our blessings. Intentionally calling to mind things we’re grateful for. Reminding ourselves of our blessings and expressing gratitude to God and to others for all the good in our lives.
And more than just being thankful, our thankfulness leads us to praise and adoration. Thankfulness that leads to worship. Thankfulness that leads to a deeper relationship with God. Thankfulness that leads to going out into the world and serving others. Thankfulness that leads to a transformed life. The reason our thankfulness is so important isn’t because Jesus needs us to pad his ego, but because a thankful heart truly transforms us. Being grateful is healthy, healthy for us emotionally, psychologically, and most of all spiritually.
But it’s human nature to become distracted by what we have. To lose that sense of thankfulness and take things for granted. We get used to our blessings, and we don’t really see them as blessings anymore. Ever open your fridge and think “there’s nothing to eat” when in reality there’s actually plenty of food, just nothing you feel like having? Our abundance of food is an incredible blessing. But if we don’t really understand what it’s like to be hungry, we don’t exactly appreciate that abundance. We got so used to constantly having enough that we lack the ability to naturally appreciate our abundance. The same can be said about relationships, health, safety, or any number of things that we take for granted.
This is why it’s so important to practice mindfulness and gratitude in daily life. To cultivate thankfulness in our hearts. Practicing gratitude in an intentional way can help us be mindful of our blessings that we might not be taking for granted. It’s a matter of being present: not dwelling on the past or wishing for a better future. But being aware of the here and now and our blessings in this moment.
Being aware, being mindful of God’s blessings is what separated the tenth leper from the other nine. It’s the faith that “made him well” in the final verse. Of course the text says Jesus “cleansed” all ten, but did you notice only the tenth was “made well”? And it was his faith that made him well. Perhaps that’s because Jesus saw this at work in him—he saw an awareness that was deeply mindful of his blessing which led him to gratitude and transformation. And more than just the physical health that all ten received, the tenth leper had the spiritual wholeness that came from thankfulness—the gratitude that transformed his heart. His faith and trust and gratitude for Jesus’ gift truly made him well. He is a model of how we should respond to God’s gifts for us. With mindfulness and gratitude. And a model of how such a response to God’s grace will transform us and make us well also.
But the good news in this story isn’t that only one returns to give thanks, it’s that all ten are cleansed. And I’m sure the Holy Spirit did not leave them or give up on transforming them into people of gratitude and love. Because we don’t have a God who loves us only when we appreciate it. That’s not what unconditional love is. God doesn’t heal just so we’ll give thanks. God loves us even when we forget to give thanks. God loves us even when we’re downright ungrateful, like my dog Blondie who never realized I got shocked trying to help her. God doesn’t hold our ungratefulness against us. God simply notices it and invites us to grow beyond it. To become people with grateful and grace-filled hearts. To be a people who are deeply mindful of our gifts, and share out of our abundance. To be like the tenth leper. God is working in us, no matter how thankful we are or aren’t, and transforming us into mature Christians who are thankful, who are filled with gratitude, who are generous and loving, who are partners with God in our own transformation and in the transformation of the world. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 10/9/2022