When our team here at Family Ministries decided that the theme for our November newsletter was going to be “gratitude,” I at first thought it ideal. It ties in so well with the Thanksgiving holiday and the general feeling so many of us have around harvest time as to how God works so well in our lives.
But upon deeper reflection, I got a little worried.
Discussing “gratitude” in November is SO common and SO expected that you can almost write out ahead of time what is going to be said about it. Phrases like “attitude of gratitude” and “thanks for giving” seem to proliferate our collective conversations at this time of the year. It’s kind of like, as a preacher, when a well-known parable is assigned to you and you can’t help but think, “What can I say NEW about THIS one?” (For me it’s always the Prodigal Son which, sure enough, I had to preach on again this year . . .)
Gratitude needs to be something more than a trite cliché. Gratitude is indeed an attitude, but it is far more than just a simple catchphrase or a “one-and-done” effort we make from time-to-time to make ourselves feel better.
Gratitude is very much like justice, at least in the sense of the word from one of my favorite quotes in one of my favorite movies – the 1960 version of Mutiny on the Bounty with Trevor Howard as the villainous Captain Bligh and the great Marlon Brando as the heroic Fletcher Christian.
Near the end of the movie, as Captain Bligh is on trial for losing his ship to the mutineers, the Admiral leading the court martial makes a pointed comment about the way that Bligh ran his ship.
The quote is a model of simplicity on the Christian life in general, and on the subject of both justice and gratitude in particular. The Admiral said to Bligh:
“We cannot put justice aboard our ships in books. Justice and decency are carried in the heart of the captain or they be not aboard.”
As it is with justice, so it is with gratitude . . . as well as with the person of Jesus Christ.
These are all things we must carry as an integral part of us, grafted into our very being, or ultimately we do not possess them at all. Being grateful is something which should come naturally to us; it should not be foreign or really require much effort actually . . . if we are truly grateful, that is.
Being grateful only if prompted by the season or a feeling of obligation of some sort is not what we are called to as Christians. As followers of Jesus Christ and good stewards of everything we have, gratitude is an act of humility and an understanding as to who is truly responsible for what we have . . . someone who, in the end, is not us but God and God alone.
In this wonderful season, it is our duty not just to “do something out of gratitude” or even “try and be grateful” for what it is we have. Our challenge is to examine our innermost selves and make sure we are ALWAYS grateful for EVERYTHING we have, and to have such a belief shine forth in everything we do.
And as we all know, this is easier said than done sometimes . . . fortunately we need not worry.
If we find ourselves falling short of this attitude as part of our general make-up, God’s grace can bridge the gap for us, and remake us all new . . . we need only seek him out in the sacraments and resolve, just as we do every time we are in the confessional, to do better going forward.
Something else, for which, we all have a very good reason to be grateful.