Let the grateful one be me

Through prayer, it is possible to cultivate gratitude as a natural first response in every situation.

Many years ago when I was working for a public broadcasting station, part of my job was to find speakers for our pledge drives. We looked for guests who were comfortable chatting on air and could also inspire listeners to contribute. One guest always hit the mark, and this particular year she shared the story of the ten lepers from Luke 17 in the Bible (see vv. 12–19). She briefly explained that all of the lepers had been healed by Jesus but only one returned to give thanks. Then she invited all of the listeners that day to be that one. The response was remarkable, and we soon reached our pledge goals and finished the drive.

That message continues to resonate with me today: Be the one who follows through with gratitude.

Those ten lepers had been excluded from society for some time, as required by Judaic law, under which the next steps following their cure were inspection by the priests and sacrifice. The urgency with which those healed wished to fulfill that requirement and return to their families and communities may have closed their eyes to any action but that necessitated by law. Perhaps the excitement of returning to normalcy and the anticipation of being reunited with others outweighed giving gratitude for the healing.

We, too, can get preoccupied with the details of our circumstances and forget to be grateful. We think instead about what needs to be accomplished, whether for a task or a healing, and thought looks forward to the end result, forgetting the need for gratitude. Like the nine lepers who continued on to the priests, it may only be long after the resolution of our problem that we recognize that we have missed an opportunity to give thanks.

Through prayer, it is possible to cultivate gratitude as a natural first response in every situation. Jesus is the model for this, as he thanked God even when things seemed darkest, bringing solutions thought to be impossible—such as raising Lazarus after he had been in the tomb four days and feeding a multitude with only a few loaves and fish. Jesus saw and demonstrated unlimited possibilities as a result of consistently being grateful for God’s tender care.

We can begin each day by acknowledging, as Jesus did, the infinitude of divine goodness, unseen by us but known to God, and always available. This good is as near to us as God, the source of all good. We find this good through gratitude, which takes our thought off of ourselves and our situation and puts it squarely on God, the governor of our lives and well-being. A much-loved hymn states, 

A grateful heart a garden is,
       Where there is always room
For every lovely, Godlike grace
       To come to perfect bloom.
(Ethel W. Dennis, Christian Science 
Hymnal, No. 3, © CSBD)

This heartfelt gratitude leaves no room for fear, anger, or distraction, and these traits will increasingly disappear from our experience as gratitude has a more consistent place in our thought.

Echoing Jesus’ ministry, Mary Baker Eddy encouraged us to keep our thoughts more expansive and God-centered. She states in the Manual of The Mother Church, “Gratitude and love should abide in every heart each day of all the years” (p. 60). And both were evident in the way she mentored her followers and her Church. Reminiscences of those who spent time with her report a life overflowing with gratitude, despite the need to meet many demanding challenges.

What would it take for us to model that in our own experience? Mrs. Eddy’s primary work on Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, gives clear guidance: “Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more. Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech” (p. 3).

The first step is to note how we have already been blessed. This is more than a straightforward enumeration of benefits we have experienced, and looks instead at the depth of good in our lives, revealing progress we may have forgotten or never even noticed. As a result, we are “fitted to receive more”—our eyes are opened to the generous outpouring of good ceaselessly coming to us from God.

The next step is to express our appreciation, not just in words but in actions, as the one leper did who returned to give thanks. The Bible story indicates that he “glorified God.” His acknowledgment of the transformation and of God as the source of it was an important step in his progress, for he received from Jesus the benediction “Thy faith hath made thee whole.”

At a time when I was faced with a confusing situation regarding custody arrangements, I remembered the lesson of the leper. Both my ex-husband and I had made plans with our children for the same weekend, each thinking the schedule favored us. After several arguments and angry accusations, I realized this was getting us nowhere, and instead turned to God. I thanked Him for His tender care and loving guidance, acknowledging that He would provide a right solution. Then it came to me very clearly to let the children accompany their dad for the weekend. I was surprised at the suggestion but felt at peace and followed through to let him know. Imagine my surprise when the next morning he knocked on my door, bringing the kids home to spend the time with me.

This kind of sweet solution has unfolded more than once when, faced with difficult circumstances, I turned my thought to thanking God. I have been quickly provided with spiritual reassurance and direction in meeting many kinds of challenges, including troubled relationships, dangerous driving conditions, financial problems, and frightening health conditions. In each case, I found comfort and healing through the transforming action of gratitude.

Each one of us can take to heart, just as that leper did, the opportunity to return and glorify God for the blessings given to us. And as that guest speaker urged so long ago, we can each “be that one.”

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Thank you for inviting me
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