I know that gratitude is a good thing and that there are so many blessings in my life… I have enough to eat, work I feel called to, people who love me and whom I love, and so much more. But honestly, it sometimes feels stilted this time of year. With Advent planning, the stewardship campaign, the budget committee, and the community interfaith Thanksgiving service (which means I can’t leave town until late the night before Thanksgiving), and family dynamics around the holidays (did I mention that my mother asked again whether I could come home for Christmas Eve?), gratitude sometimes feels like one more unrealistic expectation. Do you have any tips for finding my sense of gratitude in the midst of stress, anxiety, and frenzy?
Too Busy to Be Grateful
I hear you, sister! As clergy, this is a time of year when our jobs include a lot of trying to help other people practice gratitude… often while persevering through some of the toughest parts of the annual cycle of church life. It isn’t easy, and the professional and familial expectations that we make a show of our gratitude at this time of year sometimes make it even harder to experience gratitude authentically.
Fortunately for us, gratitude is like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise (and atrophies with disuse). If you’re not feeling especially grateful, don’t beat yourself up about it! Instead, start by practicing gratitude, and you may find that authentic sense of gratitude starting to grow. Why don’t you try doing something concrete that might help nurture your sense of gratitude? Here are a few ideas:
- Participate in TYCWP’s #thanksliving14! Every day this month, young clergy women and others are posting photos and reflections around themes of thanksgiving and gratitude. Maybe hunting for the perfect photo opportunity for “abundance” or “feast” will make you more aware of the moments of grace and blessing throughout your day. If you’d like to join in or learn more, check out this article.
- If you have children, one YCW suggests incorporating a “thank you prayer” into bedtime. Each member of the family thanks God for one thing about their day – “Thank you, God, for pumpkin day. Amen.” “Thank you, God, for pizza at lunch. Amen.” “Thank you, God, for my son. Amen.” This practice helps parents to model and teach prayers of thanksgiving, while refocusing the whole family on God’s blessing in our lives.
- Another family practice (for families with or without kids) is a “thanks jar” – sometime in October, take an evening as a family to write down fifty-five things you’re grateful for and put them all in a big jar. Each day from November 1 to December 25, pull one paper from the jar during a family meal, and read it out loud. Big kids can participate in writing down things they’re grateful for; littler kids can help decorate the jar.
- When your work life is tough, it’s helpful to have a file of “love notes”… mementos that remind you what you love about ministry. Your file might include hand-written notes of thanks, congratulations, or praise; mementos from events that made your heart sing; or photos of beloved congregants that make you smile. If you don’t have a file, start one this week and try to find a few things you can put in it.
- Speaking of notes, you could write thank you notes to people who are contributing to your ministry. From the person who cleaned out the fridge last week, to the one who sang a solo in worship, to the one who can always be trusted to “pinch hit” if an usher calls in sick, I hope your ministry has plenty of people who are helping out in big and small ways. Making a habit of writing thank you notes each week is a great practice for nourishing congregational vitality – and it’s a great discipline for you, as well!
- If you don’t have time to go buy some notecards right now, you can start with this baby step: start every email with a word of thanks. Sometimes it’ll be easy to find something to thank people for, and other times you may need to really dig deep (Wrong: “Dear Budget Committee Chair, thanks a bunch for your suggestion of cutting my salary.” Right: “Dear Budget Committee Chair, thank you so much for the dedication and creativity you’re putting into stewarding our church’s resources.”) I think you’ll find that the practice of searching for something for which to be grateful is a very fruitful one indeed.
- A practice that one YCW encourages is telling the stories of moments of blessing and grace in your daily life. While it’s certainly good to notice those moments, sharing stories about the times we’ve experienced God’s grace helps to reinforce our gratitude and build one another up in faith.
Blessings and best of luck as you navigate this season, TBTBG! As the Apostle Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18, NRSV). I’m thankful for you, and for all my sisters in ministry.