Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

 “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Diana Butler Bass’s most recent book is entitled, “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” We know that gratitude is good, but many of us find it hard to sustain a meaningful life of gratefulness. Most of us report feeling gratitude on a regular basis, but those private feelings seem disconnected from larger concerns of our public lives. Diana invites us to become aware of gratitude in new ways, with the hope that if we see more clearly what is at stake, we might together nurture, encourage, and practice the sort of gratefulness that can change our hearts and our communities.

The first step is to recognize that we carry around in our minds already existing structures of meaning that influence how we experience gratitude. For centuries, Westerners have defined gratitude as a commodity of exchange – a transaction of debt and duty – organized around notions of wealth and power. Benefactors gave benefits to beneficiaries who, in turn, were indebted to their benefactors. This model, built on reciprocity, continues to influence us.

There is, however, an alternative structure of gratefulness, one that holds out the possibility of spiritual and ethical transformation – that of gift and response. In this mode, gifts exist before benefactors. The universe is a gift. Life is a gift. Air, light, soil, and water are gifts. Friendship, love, and family are gifts. We live on a gifted planet. Everything we need is here, with us. We freely respond to these gifts by choosing a life of mutual care.

Gifts bring forth gratitude, and we express our appreciation by passing gifts on to others. When we share gifts, we become benefactors toward the well-being of all. This is an invitation to receive gifts, live more simply, graciously, and freely, attuned to our own hearts, our neighbors, and the common good. Gratitude is a spiritual awareness and a social structure of gift and response.

At the most basic level, gratitude involves two aspects of experience:

Emotions – feelings in response to gifts and Ethics – actions in response to gifts

These function in two arenas of our lives:

The personal – the “me” of individual life and the public – the “we” of community

With this in mind, we can create a balanced model of gift-and-response gratitude that looks something like this:

Gratitude is not, of course, a pie chart. Rather, think of this graphic as a round table or a circle. In this way, we can begin to see it as a whole, made up of constituent parts, working in harmony with one another.

  • If you emphasize me and emotions, you are probably attuned to the inner dimensions of awe, surprise, and appreciation and have strong feelings when someone helps you, serves you, or gives you a gift. You define gratitude in terms of delight, joy, or surprise.
  • If you emphasize me and ethics, you might experience gratitude as a moral or ritual response to a favor extended to you. Returning dinner invitations, writing thank-you notes, and repaying personal obligations come naturally. You think of gratitude in terms of individual responsibility and reciprocity.
  • If you emphasize we and emotions, gratitude might well up in your heart when you are with others expressing appreciation – singing the national anthem, celebrating the victory of a favorite sports team, worshipping, or gathering around the family table. You experience gratitude through family, community, celebration, and festivity.
  • If you emphasize we and ethics, you might define gratitude as social responsibility that demands action through public commitments to charity, stewardship, volunteerism, and social institutions. You believe that gratitude is an essential foundation of civic life, taking pride in doing good.

In order to develop a mature sense of gratefulness, we need to strengthen all four dimensions and be aware of the connections between them, developing a way of life that attends to our feelings and actions in relation to gifts and does so personally and communally. We need to open our eyes to a fuller vision of gratitude to grow in well-being and live compassionately together.

Deborah Rexrode, PhD
POJ Associate for Stewardship

*This is an excerpt from “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks” by Diana Butler Bass.

Planning a Fall Stewardship Program

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  Isaiah 40:31a

This fall presents a lot of challenges as to how we do ministry during a pandemic. It also causes us to wonder how our fall Stewardship efforts will be received. The reason is that while we say we are in this together, we are not all experiencing the pandemic the same. Some churches are struggling more than ever financially, while others find that giving has increased and finances are fine.

Practicing Gratitude

Mark and Lisa Scandrette have written a book entitled, “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.” They provide a profound approach to thinking about the abundant lives that we live and how we manage the gifts and resources that God has provided for us. Thanksgiving is next week and expressing our gratitude and thanks seems to flow freely, but what does gratitude and thanks look like for every other day of the year?

A Culture of Thanksgiving

Thanking should be a part of the culture of every congregation. People who give to support the ministry of their congregation should be thanked regularly. People who are active in the life of the congregation, and the life of the community, should expect to be regularly recognized and thanked for the work they do.

Paul regularly uses his letters as opportunities to thank God for his fellow believers. Romans, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon all contact strong statements of thanks to God for Paul’s fellow believers and their faith. Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)

There are two important things to notice in Paul’s thanksgiving. First, he seems eager to give thanks. This provides a great model for us. We should be equally eager to give thanks for those with whom we share faith in Jesus Christ. Second, Paul tells people he thanks God for them. Sometimes we need to say thanks directly to people. Sometimes, we may say thanks to God in our prayers for the work of specific people but when we tell that person we have given thanks to God for them, we have taken our thanksgiving to a whole new level.

Charles “Chick” Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation,” suggests there are few things that will build up a congregation more than having a culture of thanksgiving. By this he means a culture in which people feel comfortable and natural expressing their thanks to one another. When people are regularly thanked, they will not only feel appreciated, they will feel valuable, wanted, and needed. They will also be quick to volunteer to help with other projects.

Here are some specific ways you can create a culture of thanksgiving in your congregation:

  • Expand the circle of thanks-givers – don’t expect the pastor or the leaders to be the only ones saying thanks. Find the people in your congregation who have the gift of thanksgiving. Give them a pile of thank-you notes and stamps and help them to know who could use a thank you note.
  • Thank everyone at the same time – sometimes a thank you can be extended in worship or at other congregational gatherings. This is especially good when lots of people have been involved in accomplishing a project, and you don’t want anyone to be left out in receiving thanks.
  • Thank personally – a thank you note from a pastor, a thank you note from a leader of the congregation, a face-to-face thank you…you can’t thank too often. Receiving a thank you note when you least expect it can have a tremendous effect on someone.
  • Thank immediately – the sooner a thank-you is received, the more sincere it will be perceived. Set aside time for thank-you note writing.
  • Pass on a thank you – share with the congregation any thank-you that is received from ministries you support. Post them on the bulletin board or include them in your newsletter or an insert in the bulletin. Make sure everyone knows how their generosity has made a difference.
  • Hold a thank-you trip – if you support a ministry in your community, plan a time to visit that ministry with a group of people from your congregation. This will give your congregation a chance to see the good work that is being done because of your congregation’s financial support.
  • Involve the children and youth in your congregation in saying thanks:
    1. Spend Sunday school time writing “thank you” with chalk on the church sidewalk or parking lot.
    2. Make fridge magnets that express thanks and hand them out as a gift for everyone in worship.
    3. Plant seeds in small cups and allow them to sprout. Write messages on popsicle sticks to put in each cup. Give these to teachers and youth workers on Christian Education Sunday.
    4. Attach gift tags to small gift bows and give everyone one to wear on a special Sunday when you want to thank everyone.

Giving thanks is as important to Stewardship work as asking. Plan to say thanks with as much care as you plan to ask. Watch the amazing results that occur when people feel appreciated and valued.

 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship

 

 

*Excerpts taken from Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane.

Carols for Year End Stewardship

As we journey through this season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I encourage you to think about the carols, hymns, and other songs we sing and hear their familiar words this year in a new way as a way to “repeat the sounding joy” of generosity and stewardship. Here are a few with some tips for what the song might call you do:

Grace and Gratitude

Have you ever been notified by an attorney that your presence was requested at the reading of someone’s will because you are going to receive an inheritance? Most people think this is a bittersweet time for obvious reasons. I can only imagine what it would be like because I have not experienced this, but for those who have, I’m told it is an emotional time. Imagine how it must feel to come to the realization that someone thought enough of you to want to leave you something upon their death. With that thought, you start to reminisce on the relationship you had with the person, and this reflection usually reveals one of three different types of relationships.