November is often a month when we concentrate on gratitude. I try to do that in my daily prayers, starting by thanking God for at least four specific things, before I go on to ask God for healing or help or hope. There’s a lot to be said for gratitude. It helps me to focus on the good things that are happening rather than sinking into a pity party. Gratitude moves me to generosity and away from greed. I am often aware that some of the biggest things in my life are the ones I take most for granted. I forget to be thankful until I see someone who does not have those basic things: health, shelter, family, friends.
Recently an exchange on Facebook made me think about gratitude in a deeper way. A colleague of mine, who lives with a chronic health issue, posted that he was grateful for an imperfect medical system. Someone else asked about feeling grateful for something that everyone should have. I wrestle with gratitude that borders on presumption. When I say I am blessed because I have access to medical care, does that mean God does NOT bless people who do not have health insurance that allows them to go to the doctor whenever they need it? Of course not, most of us would say, yet what does it mean then when I express gratitude for those basic things so many do not have? What is the link between gratitude and justice?
I don’t have a ready answer for that challenge. I don’t think it means I should not be grateful for good things in my life, whether that is an unexpected blessing like a beautiful sunny day when I had hoped to go for a hike or the routine, ordinary things that are so important, like legs that can walk and lungs that can breathe. Gratitude does move me to generosity in which I share what I can with those who do not have. Gratitude also moves me to justice so that I advocate for those who lack the basic things that all of us should have: shelter, food, employment, medical care and so on. Gratitude reminds me that I am no more or less loved by God because I have good things than the person who lacks those things. Gratitude humbles me to see myself in the other.
What does gratitude mean to you?