This tiny plaque I have displayed in my home holds the story of an extraordinarily grateful woman, my grandmother Yvonne Fischer. I have long admired the way my grandma carried herself in this world. Humble, joyful, interested in every single human she met, and exceedingly non-materialistic. She held onto everything lightly, everything but her faith. When she passed away this Fall, we sorted the few sparse items she hadn’t yet given away, and I found the plaque that read, “gratitude turns what we have into enough.” I quickly recalled giving my grandmother this as a gift years ago, because this phrase IS my grandmother. She always had enough, and her spirit showed it.
The writer of Psalm 138 believes this too. It’s common for us to think that those who can easily praise God must possess all the blessings this world has to offer. It’s common to think this, but it’s simply not true; This Psalmist gives thanks for the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness even after being displaced from Israel’s homeland and place of worship; After years of oppression, the Psalmist affirms that God “gives me life” in the midst of the struggle, not beyond it.
Spiritual blessing comes only when we recognize that what we have is enough. And sometimes all we have is God’s love, God’s assurance, God’s deliverance. When that can be enough, we live in gratitude for all the rest, icing on the cake.
Friends, if we wait for life to be perfect before giving thanks, we’ll be miserable. Deliverance from our pain is both a present reality and yet something that awaits fulfillment. And it always will be, this side of eternity! So I ask you this: what is discouraging you today? Are you willing to give God thanks in the midst of it, rather than waiting for it to resolve?
Over the years, I learned that my grandmother’s life was hard. She lost pregnancies before birthing my father, an only child. They lost their hog farm to disease and endured bankruptcy. My grandfather struggled with addiction his whole life, before dying in his sixties. And my grandma is no stranger to cancer, among other health challenges. Even so, here’s the truth: I have never known a more content and grateful woman than my grandma. She could laugh at herself all day; she would give and pray and spend her energy for the sake of others. Above all, she was SO thankful for every darn breath she took. Even in her final moments, she spread cheer at the nursing home, playing piano and dancing until the week she died. She left this world and each person she encountered with joy, simply because she believed, “gratitude turns what you have into enough.” And that attitude is contagious.
If you’re the scientific type, here’s something to consider. The act of gratitude (say, writing letters of thanks) actually changes us. Look it up, there’s plenty of studies on it. Our brain chemistry alters based on what we choose to think about. One study by Joshua Brown & Joel Wong suggests that “gratitude letter-writing produces better mental health by shifting one’s attention away from toxic emotions, such as resentment and envy. When you write about how grateful you are to others and how much other people have blessed your life, it might become considerably harder for you to ruminate on your negative experiences.”
Yes, thank you modern science and ancient Psalmists alike for this good news: Gratitude is a pathway to God’s grace, because gratitude makes what we have, enough.
Here’s your homework for this week: Choose two people in your life that you’d like to thank. Write them a note saying what it is that you’re grateful for. It’s one of the simplest and most effective practices for spiritual and mental well-being, and it’s way less expensive than therapy! (but feel free to see your therapist too).
I am confident that EVEN in the small chance the practice of gratitude doesn’t change you, it WILL change those who witness it. Trust me, my grandma’s example of grateful living will forever influence my perspectives on faith and life. Gratitude makes what we have enough, when we believe as the Psalmist, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” Thanks be to God for the gift of love that offers us all a chance for grateful living!
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.