Practicing gratitude and generosity

November 19, 2014

As we draw near to Thanksgiving, I am in the frame of mind to reflect on my life and count my blessings.

Fundamentally, I believe that the core practices of a Christian are gratitude and generosity. Everything we have received is a gift from God. God set this whole thing into motion, separating light from darkness, creating the stars, sun, and planets, and everything on them, including us. I know I am here by gift. I did nothing to deserve it. And I know how blessed I am.

I have a loving family, a good job, and a nice home. I have great opportunities to travel, to speak my mind, to practice my faith, to strive for my best. Again, much of this is due to the gift of where I was born and the people who have gone before me to ensure that those who follow would have these freedoms.

Because of the gifted nature of life, I really believe that a better way to live is to be generous: to be generous in my words, in my actions, in sharing my time and resources. If I seek to follow Jesus, to become more Christ-like, then generosity is at the heart of it all. God has extended the fullness of who God is, shared everything with us in Christ Jesus, so that we might simply love God back and love those whom God loves.

So I say all that, I believe it, and yet . . . it is November 18 as I write this, and the high temperature today is about 18 degrees, and I complain. I really do hate winter and every year wonder: Why did those Norwegian ancestors settle here in the first place?

It has been a challenging year for my extended family. We have gone through some really difficult circumstances. It has been hard to keep believing that God indeed works for good in all things, given the where we are in this situation. Bad things do happen to good people. And I have been more sad than joyful on far too many days. I get tired of giving my all to renewing the church and continually seeing measures that are rarely up and to the right.

If God is God and Jesus really did build the church on the rock, where not even the gates of hell could stop it, then why is it so hard to lead the church these days? And don’t even get me started on this culture of discontent we live in.

Every day, I receive several e-mails telling me it is my last chance to save 15 to 50 percent, and if I don’t get it, whatever it is, that is on sale, I will be missing something. It is so easy to become unhappy with the house I live in, the car I drive, the clothes I wear, the smartphone I use, because there is always something newer or something that seems better. All the while, it’s too easy to forget how lucky I am to have a house to live in, a car to drive, a closet full of clothes to wear, and an iPhone to use to stay connected.

This brings me back to Thanksgiving. I know it is a national holiday, but for me, it really is a spiritual one. Easter is first in my book, and Thanksgiving is second. Yes, it is ahead of Christmas. I like it because there are few expectations and demands (no perfect present to find), and it is a day when I can find time to reset my life back to gratitude and generosity.

As easily as I made a list of my complaints and discontent, I can make a far longer list of the gifts in my life: simple moments, good friends, church breakthroughs that I got to witness, wonderful trips to beautiful places, a healthy body . . . and so much more.

I came across this quote from Denzel Washington, and it offers a great spiritual practice, not only for Thanksgiving, but for every day:

“I pray that you all put your shoes way under the bed at night so that you gotta get on your knees in the morning to find them. And while you’re down there, thank God for grace and mercy and understanding. We all fall short of the glory, we all got plenty. If you just starting thinking of all the things you’ve got to say thank you for, that’s a day. That’s easily a day.”

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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