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.

The Stewardship of White Privilege

One of my favorite definitions of stewardship, generally attributed to Clarence Stoughton, is “stewardship is everything we do after we say, ‘I believe.’” Stewardship is love in action—it puts feet to our faith.

What does that really look like? It’s easy for those of us who are white to join the crowd in professing “Black Lives Matter,” make a donation, and return to business as usual without doing the learning, listening, and soul searching required to join the movement for lasting systemic change.

Stewardship in a Liminal Time

Recently I have heard the word “liminal” used many times to describe this season we are experiencing in the life of our churches. The word liminal comes from the Latin word limens, which means “limit or threshold.” Author and theologian Richard Rohr defines liminal time in this way:

“It is when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

Faithful Stewards

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
I Peter 4:10

So much has happened in the past month, and our calendars and lists of activities have completely changed. We have replaced daily and weekly meetings at the church to Zoom meetings and conference calls. Worship has gone from weekly gatherings to video or recorded events. Sessions are meeting virtually. Everything looks a bit different than it usually does this time of year.

Conversion from Scarcity to Abundance

Spending time in study together is a profound way for the leadership of a congregation to bond and become stronger as spiritual leaders. As a member of the session of my own church, we have begun a study of “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission” by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. The first chapter in this book begins with an understanding of how congregations can learn to embrace fundamental changes in perspective that will lead us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on those where God has planted us.

Stewarding Congregational Wellness

Some stewardship committees focus most of their attention on the fall Stewardship emphasis. Frankly, that’s plenty of work. But our calling as stewardship leaders is not just to the fall “ask.” We are also called to help shape the identity of stewards among our peers and as a community. We are entrusted with many assets, some of which are physical (like buildings and money) and some of which are relational (like our congregational community or our congregational mission). All of these are inflection points where we can invite others to think and act like stewards.

Christmas Gift Giving

People born between 1977 and 1985 are often referred to as millennials. However, nine years is hardly enough to qualify as a separate generation and so many who are born in that timeframe feel as though they don’t quite belong. They have one foot in Generation X and one in Generation Y. They are the bridge between an analog childhood and a digital adulthood, and we often remind them of that.

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?