Cultivating Gratitude: A Spiritual Journey

Written by: Inés Franklin
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Early in my Christian journey, I realized I had a problem: a deep-rooted deficiency of gratitude. As one of seven children raised by a single mother in a hyper-critical home environment, I found myself compelled to vie for attention by excelling in my actions. However, the double-edged sword of being both a performer and a perfectionist was that nothing ever seemed to measure up to the high standards I set. There is little room for gratitude when there is always something to fix. Sadly, for years, my lack of gratitude kept me from fully embracing God’s grace, shackling me with shame and compelling me to strive tirelessly toward salvation.

Every year, as the Thanksgiving week unfolds, our social media feeds are overwhelmed by messages of gratitude. Cherished family portraits, plentiful feasts, and vibrant decorations fill the digital space. A sense of joy permeates these few days, radiating from the countless expressions of thankfulness. However, it often seems as though this grand display of gratitude fades away as quickly as it arrives, stowed away until the next Thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on our blessings, we become overly aware of what’s missing, what’s flawed, or what’s broken. Rather than rejoicing in our abundance, we gripe.

That was me.

The brief annual celebration of gratitude during Thanksgiving was hardly sufficient to build a grateful heart within me. I yearned for the warmth of gratitude to infuse my heart every single day, knowing that grateful people are happier and healthier than complainers.

That is when I started to pray for gratitude. I put a sticker on my vanity mirror, and for one year, every morning and evening, I asked God to give me a grateful heart. God is kind to answer such a prayer. Since then, not only have I grown in gratitude (Thank you, Jesus!!), but also learned the importance of cultivating gratitude.

Gratitude: An Active Testament of Faith

The biblical story of Jesus’ encounter with ten lepers during his journey to Jerusalem, between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17), offers a profound illustration of gratitude as faith in action. These men, from a distance, pleaded for mercy and healing. Jesus instructed them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). This command may have initially sparked disappointment, but the men complied and were surprisingly healed of leprosy “as they went.” This miraculous healing occurred before they fully grasped what Jesus had done for them, emphasizing their trust in Jesus.

These men faced not just physical pain but also social ostracism, psychological distress, and economic deprivation because of their condition. Their lives seemed devoid of hope as they lived in a commune of outcasts, incessantly reminded of their hopeless and “unclean” state by society. Leprosy is a bacterial infection that assails the skin and nervous system, causing disfiguration and even loss of limbs. It is a devastating disease that is as physically debilitating as it is socially isolating, not to mention the horrific odor of decaying flesh it produces. Even today, despite the tireless efforts of well-meaning people to provide comfort and encouragement, the overwhelming smell makes visiting leper colonies nearly unbearable. The men who met Jesus had good reason to complain!

All ten men experienced miraculous healing from Jesus. Their lives were transformed instantly: limbs regenerated, their skin was restored, and the nauseating stench vanished. The euphoria they must have experienced is hard to fathom. Joyful shouts, exuberant dances, and hearty embraces would have likely filled their reunion as they rejoiced. I can imagine them saying, “We’re healed! We’re whole! We’re clean!”

But amongst them, only one “returned, and with a loud voice, gave glory to God” (Luke 17:15). Just one expressed his gratitude to Jesus for the healing. He alone showcased his faith, manifested through his gratitude.

The Blessing of Gratitude

The healed man retraced his steps to prostrate himself at Jesus’ feet, expressing his heartfelt thanks and glorifying God. Despite being a Samaritan, a “foreigner,” he demonstrated his gratitude by recognizing Jesus as Lord. Jesus’ response is a revelation, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19). The man sought mercy, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus granted mercy, all right. He granted the leper physical and spiritual healing. Three Greek words denote healing in this story (iaomai, katharizō, sōzō), referring to restoring bodily health, ceremonial cleanliness, and spiritual salvation, respectively. An unexpected gift of grace was bestowed upon him.

The man’s act of worship born from gratitude led to his comprehensive healing, purification, and salvation! Gratitude leads to blessing!

Gratitude: The Transformative Spiritual Practice

Gratitude holds a special place among spiritual practices due to its transformative power on our overall well-being. It enhances our optimism, nurtures our connections with others, elevates our self-esteem, and bolsters our physical health and energy. Not only is gratitude beneficial to us, but its positive energy also influences those around us. Not only that, but God delights in our gratitude, and he blesses us with his favor!

There’s a multitude of ways to nurture gratitude. The simplest yet potent method is sincerely expressing “Thank you” to God whenever the opportunity arises. Furthermore, you can spend 10 minutes each morning writing down all the things you are thankful to God for, or even keep a note on your phone that you can pop open in a thankful moment to type what you are thankful for to read later.

Gratitude softens our words, fosters kindness, and influences our actions to be more honorable. Gratitude empowers us to rejoice in our personal healing, spiritual salvation, and our Savior.

It can be challenging to maintain a thankful mindset all year long, especially amidst the daily trials of life. Yet, when we acknowledge the goodness, value, or pleasantness of God’s good gifts, we offer ourselves and others an invaluable gift. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we spread the joy of a grateful heart.

Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to the Lord! Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs. Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we are his—his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name. For the Lord is good, and his faithful love endures forever; his faithfulness, through all generations. Psalm 100 CSB