Taking a Gratitude Journey

Recently, a colleague introduced me to a book by A.J. Jacobs. The title of the book is Thanks a ThousandA Gratitude Journey. The idea of the book is deceptively simple: New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey took him across the globe, transformed his life, and revealed secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.

In a recent webinar offered by the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, Jacobs talked about the way our brains are biased for negativity–it’s biological. Gratitude helps us overcome that negative bias. We are programmed by nature to say, “that’s bad,” and to notice the potentially dangerous. Yet even with the pandemic, our life is not as dangerous as it was for early hunter-gatherers. Saying “that’s good” over and over through the day helps us keep things in perspective.

Jacobs said that gratitude is “a reminder of the hundreds of things that go right every day.” As part of his coffee project, he discovered and personally thanked hundreds of people he takes for granted who make his simple cup of coffee every morning possible – the farmers, chemists, artists, truckers, mechanics, biologists, miners, smugglers, and goatherds. His journey included airplanes, boats, trucks, motorcycles, vans, pallets, and shoulders. The quest took Jacobs across time zones, and up and down the social ladder.

So how did this whole coffee project get started? Jacobs has done a lot of reading and studying about gratitude. He knew from all his research that gratitude did not always come naturally. But what he had come to know is gratitude is one of the keys to a life well lived. Gratitude’s psychological benefits are amazing! It can lift depression, help you sleep, improve your diet, and make you more likely to exercise. Heart patients recover more quickly when they keep a gratitude journal. A recent study has also shown that gratitude causes people to be more generous and kinder to strangers.

Jacobs began to wonder what it would be like to personally thank everyone who helped make his morning cup of coffee such a rich experience. Coffee is something he decided he could not live without. He also knew that coffee has a huge impact on our world. More than two billion cups of coffee are drunk every day around the globe. The coffee industry employs 125 million people internationally. The Enlightenment was born in Europe’s coffeehouses. So, that is what got it all started. He called it the “Great Coffee Gratitude Trail.”

Jacobs’ trail led him on a path that began with his favorite barista to the roasters who selected the beans for his favorite kind of coffee. He even set out to thank the people who made the cup in which the coffee was poured. His journey took him as far as finding those who transported the coffee, those who get the raw materials, and the farmers who grow the coffee. By the time he was finished, he had thanked nearly a thousand people either in person, by phone, or by email. It is a delightful journey, and I have found it to be somewhat overwhelming to think that one small cup of coffee required that much energy to create to get me into my day.

I am sharing this story with you as a bit of an extreme example of how easily we take for granted all the little pleasures of life and never pause to consider how they came to be and who and what may have been sacrificed for it to happen. I invite you to begin your own gratitude journey. I would suggest you find a trail that does not require you to head off to some faraway place around the world since that kind of travel is a bit limited now. It might, however, involve a trip around your community or your neighborhood. It also might involve reaching out to people you have unintentionally taken for granted. And it will mean taking the time to “thank” them for what they do for you.

Let me make some suggestions on paths you might take:

  • Who do you need to thank who makes sure you have food in your house for meals each day? Begin with the person who cooks the meals in your family and the grocery where you shop.
  • Who do you need to thank for providing you a comfortable place to live? Begin by thanking the water company and the electric company.
  • Who do you need to thank for making sure you have clothes to wear? You might start with your favorite local clothing store. Do you thank them for what they do?
  • Who do you need to thank for providing worship for you every Sunday? Start with the pastor but make sure you thank the custodian or sexton as well as the musicians and those who make the coffee.
  • Who do you need to thank in your family for getting you to the place where you are in life? You might want to start with your parents or your grandparents, and make sure you thank your children and grandchildren (and even great-grandchildren) for making your life so special.

We are blessed in many ways, and some of them are not always visible to us most days. We take life for granted and do not always pause to give thanks the way we should. Today is a good time to begin your own gratitude journey. Enjoy wherever it takes you. May your gratitude grow with each “thank you” you offer.

Deborah Rexrode, PhD
POJ Associate for Stewardship

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.

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.