Greg's Weekly Word: "grateful"
Obviously there's a lot to say about gratitude. More than would fit in a sermon. (At least, more than would fit in a sermon that people would stay awake for!) So I thought I'd continue Sunday's theme and offer a few more thoughts on gratitude that didn't make the final cut for the sermon.
Brother David Steindl-Rast is a 94-year-old Benedictine monk, whose TED Talk on gratitude has been viewed over 8 million times.
In his talk, he draws a connection between gratitude and happiness...but not how you might think. He suspects that we assume people who are happy will be grateful. And yet we all know people who have everything it takes to be happy, but who are not happy or grateful, because they want something else or something more than what they have. And we know people who have experienced terrible misfortune and pain and tragedy, and seem to radiate happiness because they are grateful.
"So," he concludes,
It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.
Of course, not everything we experience is worthy of gratitude. We can’t be grateful for war, or violence, or oppression, or exploitation. We can’t be grateful for sickness or grief. We can’t be grateful for everything. But we do have the chance to cultivate gratitude in every moment.
Steindl-Rast says, “If we did not have this present moment, we would not have the opportunity to do or experience anything. Opportunity is the gift within every [moment].” Which means that every moment, over and over again, we are given a gift. And every moment we have the opportunity to do something. Every moment, every second, every day, we are invited to respond to the gift that is our life.
When Jesus healed ten lepers, only one returned to say Thanks (Luke 17:11-19). Now, I’m sure all ten who were healed were happy. And they were probably grateful, too. But only one of them responded. Only one acted on his gratitude.
As I mentioned on Sunday, gratitude is revolutionary. If we make it a regular part of our living, it has the potential to change the world...or at the very least, to change us. And even the most stoic among us. It can even change someone like Sheldon Cooper.
If you're a fan of the show The Big Bang Theory, then you know the eccentric, highly-logical, non-emotional scientific genius, Dr. Sheldon Cooper. In one episode, he gets upset to learn his friend Penny has gotten him a Christmas gift, because (as he says),
I know you think you’re being generous, but the foundation of gift-giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation... Now I have to go out and purchase for you a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as that represented by the gift you’ve given me.
To get around this, Sheldon buys gift baskets of varying amounts, so he can open Penny’s present to him first, then give her the appropriately priced gift basket and return the others later.
But here's what happens when it's time to exchange gifts...
What felt like obligation was transformed by gratitude into joy. And out of that joyful thanksgiving came a generosity of love. It begins in our hearts, but it will not stay there. Gratitude has a kind of centrifugal force, pushing us outward, beyond ourselves, spiraling into service and generosity and gracious living.
I pray that we will (to quote the slogan of one of my favorite sermon-writing spots), "Stay grateful." And as we do, that we will NOT stay the same, but be transformed - sharing gifts and gratitude and grace with others.