The Paradox of Gratitude

With Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday season just around the corner, many of us will be sitting down around tables and in living rooms sharing the abundance of food, fellowship, and gift-giving, all while speaking words of gratitude for the many wonderful things we have in our lives. Holidays such as these have become in many ways the poster platitude for gratitude in our mainstream culture, with schools and workplaces engaging in “gratitude activities” as part of their curriculum and office spirit. And that’s great! As a culture saturated with more-than-enough-and-then-some, carving out intentional space for practicing gratitude is something we would be wise to do more of.

As a pastor, the practice and intention of gratitude is one of those virtues I believe is essential to not only the Christian tradition I am rooted in, but the spiritual journey of full living itself. Cultivating a heart, mind, body, and soul of gratitude is the key to living a rich and abundant life. Jesus taught this. So did the Buddha. So did Moses and Mohammed and all the other wise sages of the world religions. Gratitude is a universal virtue. But just because it is universal, doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, the paradox of gratitude is that it is not easy. 

As good as it is that our culture has given us two holidays as our gratitude mascot reminders, they are too surface oriented to reveal the truth about the iceberg nature of gratitude. And that is that gratitude is a discipline. Living a life rooted in gratitude is a lifelong practice that requires mindfulness, devotion, and a willingness to stretch yourself beyond what you think you know about blessings, abundance, and thankfulness, which reveals the other paradox of gratitude.

It’s easy to relegate gratitude to what’s good and lovely in our lives; or what’s simple and beautiful. Sure, being grateful for good and lovely things, simple and beautiful things is only one side of the gratitude coin. What about the other side? What about being grateful for the hard times and struggles life inevitably throws our way? This is the side of gratitude I think is most often overlooked. How many times have we been taught to be brave enough to see our struggles as blessings in our lives? How often have we been taught to say “thank you” for that which broke us? My guess is not very often. But as I just recently heard journalist, author, and radio host Krista Tippett say, “A deep spiritual truth we’ve forgotten in our time is that ‘we are made by what almost breaks us’.” In other words, the paradox of gratitude is that some of our greatest blessings come from our greatest struggles.

Yes, cultivating a life of gratitude is not easy. But those courageous enough to try will experience an abundantly rich and full life beyond the parameters of our culture’s mad beckoning! That’s the beauty of virtues embodied. They bring a wholeness to our lives that culture can never provide us.  

So as we go into this holiday season, may we remember that this blessed, beautiful, broken and hurting world is always in need of more people living an embodied life of gratitude. And May we all find the courage to go deeper into a discipline of gratitude and allow that virtue to transform us and the world around us.

Stay in Peace,

Rev Amanda Lunemann