Tools for Living

Gratitude and Religious Faith

“The best way to show my gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.” ~Mother Teresa

Gratitude has long been recognized as an essential virtue in all of the world’s great religious traditions. Scriptures abound with admonitions to express gratitude for God’s blessing and to practice gratitude in our daily lives. The Book of Psalms, for instance, is rife with songs giving thanks to God, such as Psalm 100: 3-4:

Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name.

And Psalm 9: 1-2:

I will thank you, Lord, with all my heart. I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done. I will be filed with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.

Praising God and telling of all the wonderful things he’s done goes beyond just feeling thankful. It includes expressing that thankfulness, even publicly, and carrying the message of God’s blessings to others so that they may share in them—not unlike the 12th Step’s admonitions to “carry the message to others.”

The Christian scriptures of the New Testament likewise commend gratitude toward God. For instance, in I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, the apostle Paul instructs the fledgling Christians to:

Be joyful always. Pray constantly. Give thanks for everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And again in Colossians 3: 15-17:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts […] and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing […] with gratitude in your hearts toward God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

For many of us it’s a considerable challenge to be grateful for everything. Being thankful for a raise at work or for a special favor is easy. Giving thanks for things we often take for granted, like good health, requires a bit more thoughtfulness and effort. But giving thanks for difficult and painful experiences—like getting cancer or losing a loved one—can challenge the best of us.

Circumstances like these challenge us to remember that life is not about having everything exactly the way we want it, day in and day out. We are here to learn and to grow and to serve. Sometimes our souls must be tempered by trials, just as steel must be tempered to become stronger and fit for its purpose. We must also remember that we don’t always know what’s best for us, or even what’s good for us . . . as anyone in recovery who has worked a thorough 1st Step should know very well.

When facing such challenges, let us heed the example of Job, who never turned his back on God and who never lost his faith that there was some purpose to be served by his suffering, even if he could not fathom it . If we want to learn to be happy regardless of what life throws at us, we must learn to look beyond our personal discomfort in order to appreciate and be grateful for the underlying blessings it may have in store.

For instance, a diagnosis of cancer tends to focus one’s mind on what really matters in life. If we’re open to it, it can teach us to be grateful for each day that we live, teach us to forgive all the petty grudges we’ve been holding against our loved ones, teach us more than we ever knew before about stepping out in faith. And when we lose a loved one we can be happy for them, going on to their soul’s next adventure, and be grateful for all the joys we shared with them, instead of being upset by focusing only on our personal loss.

To paraphrase an old trucker who was one of the unlikeliest spiritual teachers you could ever meet, “Gratitude is the golden hinge on the gate that leads from self-centered misery to a life of faith that’s happy, joyous, and free.”

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Quotes about Gratitude:

Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass grow upon the mountains.” –Psalms 147:7-8

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” –Aesop

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” –Cicero

“The Lord is bountiful to mankind, yet most of them do not give thanks.” — Qur’an, 27.73

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The optimist says, the cup is half full. The pessimist says, the cup is half empty. The child of God says; My cup runneth over.” — Anonymous

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”–Eric Hoffer

“Receive every day as a resurrection from death, as a new enjoyment of life; meet every rising sun with such sentiments of God’s goodness, as if you had seen it, and all things, new-created upon your account; and under the sense of so great a blessing, let your joyful heart praise and magnify so good and glorious a Creator.” –William Law

“The most important prayer in the world is just two words long: Thank you.” –Meister Eckhart

Links to more information about Gratitude:

“Having an Attitude of Gratitude,” from Christian Living for Today

From the Haggadah, “Gratitude in Action”

On the concept of gratitude in the Buddhist tradition

Jim Harmon on “Gripes or Gratitude?”

From, “Thank You, God: Religious perspectives on Gratitude”

From Christianity Today, “Gratitude: Pathway to Permanent Change”

Recommended Books:

Eamons & Hill, Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul
Professor Robert Eamons is known for his scientific investigations of the role religion and spirituality play in our personal sense of well being. He and co-author Hill offer a simple guide to the practice of gratitude, with readings drawn from philosophers, theologians, scientists, and other writers through the ages.

David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who also studied Zen Buddhism in Japan, is known for building bridges of understanding between Christianity and the spiritual traditions of East Asia. In Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer, he discusses the fundamental role of gratitude in cultivating our spiritual selves.

Angeles Arrien, Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life
Dr. Arrien draws from a variety of academic and religious sources to create a practical program that teaches how to live each day in gratitude.