Living Gratefully: A Posture and a Practice

Your life will be transformed if you awaken to each new day as a gift, rather than as a given. The new day is not an accident. The new day is teem­ing with the signs and sustenance of God’s presence, and promise, and provi­sion. You may have only as much as one more day to know God, to love God, and to serve God, which Saint Ignatius of Loyola defines as the “Foundation and First Principle” of the reflective Chris­tian life in his Spiritual Exercises. Don’t miss a moment of it. First and foremost, we are a human being before we are a human doing. Before you set off doing all that needs to get done in the day, make sure you have the right posture. Get your bearings; find your center; remind yourself how to be. How do you wish to be? The answer I would give is: Be grateful. Don’t miss the opportunity to pray and savor your gratitude for what is so clearly good in life. Start now and start small. If you awakened this morn­ing to your alarm clock, be thankful that you can hear, that you have eye- and hand-coordination to reach out. If you arose from your bed without assistance, be thankful. If fresh, potable water is available, be thankful. If you can look outside your window, whether you see sunshine or rain, beauty or sadness, be thankful for the miracle of your eyesight. If you can sit upright in a chair without having to be strapped in, be thankful. If you can drink a cup of tea using your own hand, be thankful. If you are con­tinent, be thankful. If you can breathe without mechanical assistance, be thank­ful. This could be a way of your “praying without ceasing.”
We celebrate the Holy Eucharist as a living reminder and template of how to live our lives all the time: eucharistically. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek, meaning “great thanksgiving.” It’s not that we live very ordinary, hori­zontal lives, and then have these special liturgical occasions to create a “spiritual moment,” a fleeting, transcendent expe­rience of God, to then return to our or­dinariness. When we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we are reminded of the real presence of Christ, who is really present in the ordinary present. For us to stay in touch with the presence that is present requires practice. For this practice we don’t need a special cushion on which to sit, nor a special lamp to light, nor a special icon on which to gaze, nor special incense to smell, nor special prayer beads to finger, nor a special prayer or mantra to recite. None of that is in any way bad or inappropriate. It may well help. It is simply not enough. What is enough is here and now. The Psalmist reminds us, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118: 24). Gratitude consecrates our life and labor and makes us real, and makes us really present to the real presence of Christ who is at work within us and around us now.

Say “Yes” to the life you’ve been given, to the hand you’ve been dealt. Many people wake up to discover that the script they’ve been handed in the play of life is not the part they thought they were trying out for. To live in gratitude is to accept how little of life is actually within our own control. This is an acknowledgment that God will be God, that it is God’s world on God’s time, and that we are God’s creatures, alive according to God’s good pleasure. God operates; we co-operate. Living a yes is to accept the good gifts of life that actually are there, free of resentment for what is not there, or no longer there.

Practicing gratitude will not take away the many challenges and suffering you face in life. But claiming the weight of gratitude for the wonder of living will re-balance the scale of your life. Prac­ticing gratitude will put your life’s very real difficulties in a new light. Even in the most sorry times of life, claiming, clinging to what abides that is still so amazingly good, will put a lilt to your gait, encouragement to your heart, light to your countenance. Truly.

How to Live Gratefully –

Savor your life.

Take time to remember and reclaim what is so amazingly good in your life. Consider this: At the conclusion of a recital, or concert, or play, the audience typically applauds, sometime with great enthusiasm and bravos. Why? It’s not that the playbill either designates or requires this response from the audi­ence. Nor is the applause primarily an act of courtesy toward the performers. Rather, the audience needs to express their gratitude because the experience would otherwise be incomplete. And so for you, personally. Complete the daily chapters of your life by remembering and appreciating what has been so very good.


Express your gratitude.

Expressing your gratitude to another person is a transformative experience, for the speaker and hearer alike. People are so easily taken for granted. Whether they be people whose labor is menial or whose labor is in leadership, people are so easily taken for granted. You change their day, perhaps change their life, by expressing your gratitude for who they are and what they do. Thank­ing people is a eucharistic action, and it is as transformative as the prayer of thanksgiving we pray over bread and wine at the altar.


Pray your gratitude.

We have been created in the image of God. God longs to be thanked at least as much as we do. The Psalmist asks rhetorically, “How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?” (Ps 116:10). Start with gratitude. Express your life’s gratitude to God. Before you ask God for anything, say thank you.


Keep your ears open.

People will want to thank you. Let them. They need to speak their gratitude; you need to hear it. Respond to them, “You are welcome,” and say it from the bottom of your heart. And keep your ears open to hear God’s gratitude for you. There is no one else like you, God knows. You are the apple of God’s eye. You make God’s day. God cannot get enough of you, and has made plans to share eternity with you.

“Clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” – Colossians 3:14-15

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