I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. -Psalm 111:1
There is something fundamental about thanksgiving in the life of faith. I mean, can you even imagine someone who is ungrateful at their core being a faithful person? Faith and gratitude walk hand in hand. And like so many of the traditional virtues, gratitude doesn't have to be something you're born with or just somehow naturally take to. It can be developed and deepened by practicing it. And practicing it is about as simple as a practice can be.
Start by intentionally beginning and ending your day with thanks to God. In the morning, before you even get out of bed, take a deep breath and find a few things that you can truly feel grateful for in that moment, and say a quick prayer of thanks for them. This is a very different experience than waking up and allowing your mind to go directly to your long to-do list and imagining the stresses of the day ahead. And at night, as you turn out your light, think back on your day and pick out 3-5 things you were really grateful for and say a quick prayer of thanks. This is also a very different experience than ending your day fretting about something stressful that happened earlier or worrying about the stresses of tomorrow.
You can also practice gratitude throughout the day by noticing a gift God has given you in that moment and just saying the word "thank you" under your breath. A beautiful bird song, a good stretch, a child's smile - small moments of joy are all opportunities for thanks, Repeatedly taking a few seconds out of your day to notice God's gifts begins to make God's presence more tangible in your life and in the world around you.
As simple as a gratitude practice is, it is not always easy. It's one thing to have a gratitude practice on a beautiful sunny day at the beach. It's quite another to maintain it in times of uncertainly, loss or pain. That is why practicing in this way is called a spiritual discipline. It takes discipline to stick with anything, no matter how simple. But over time, the benefits magnify.
Think of it this way. If I take a nice walk or swim or go to the gym each day, at the end of six months, I will notice tangible results. If instead I sit on the couch eating cheetos every day, I will also see tangible results after six months. Both are simple. One takes discipline, and that is the one that makes me more whole and well. In the same way, you can work toward making your relationship with God more whole and well by choosing small, simple ways to practice every day. And gratitude is one of the most basic and rewarding place to start.
There's a lot about gratitude in this Sunday's readings. I invite you to practice some communal thanks and praise together with St James this weekend.