Cultivating a Thankful Heart

Imagine writing a few hundred thank you notes in the span of roughly four years. With no ulterior motives and no holiday to prompt her correspondence, one parishioner did just that. She shared with us how, years ago, she decided to write three to five spontaneous thank you notes per week throughout her job as a school principal. This exercise energized her work week. "The fun part of it was that I knew it would get done, so I was always thinking about it," she said.

From volunteers to librarians to a public school superintendent who woke up in the wee hours of the morning to monitor the roads and consult with the police about school delays during inclement weather, hundreds of diligent workers received her notes. Setting aside the time to stop and acknowledge the faithful people she crossed paths with day in and day out instilled in her the spiritually-minded discipline of noticing. "I noticed something I appreciated about a parent who dropped off a child every day," she said, recalling one of her first thank you notes and how she told the parent that this sliver of interaction each morning was a blessing. Each thank you note was met with surprise. "I can't tell you how many people said, 'I've been doing this for years and no one ever said thank you!' They were grateful to be noticed."

As we approach Thanksgiving Day and this season of noticing God's goodness to us, including taking notice of how His love is made complete through one another (1 John 4:12), we want to hear from YOU. How do you cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Here is what some of our staff had to say.

There are many acts of grace to which I respond in prayer and say, “Thank you, God.” These are short prayers that happen in the moment, and I would say it’s habitual. I am uninhibited with believers, but I have tried to cultivate a habit of thanking God out loud to nonbelievers. Sometimes they react. One time when I said, “Praise God!” someone said, “What’s He got to do with it?” I said, “Well, He’s in back of it all.”
— The Rev. Nicholas Lubelfeld, Pastoral Associate
I program into my phone calendar to have three prayer appointments every day at 8:55 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:55 am. It buzzes and says, “Pray.” It’s a time to acknowledge three times a day that God is with me. If I’m struggling, it reminds me to invite him into that. It overwhelms me with a sense of peace and sense of gratitude that He’s that accessible. Secondly, I try to surround myself with positive people. I want our team to be thankfulness-pushers, to brag on what God is doing. About five nights a week I also go on a 30-minute prayer walk with my wife. We could start the walk desperate and hurting. We tend to end the walk in gratitude.
— The Rev. Brock Morgan, Director of Youth Ministry
Many years ago, I established the habit of beginning each morning by reflecting over the last 24 hours and giving thanks for the blessings that I had received. I still do this, and it helps me to maintain a spirit of gratitude to God. It’s a great way to start the day.
— The Rev. John Yates, Rector
A little book that has been life-changing to me - and that I now buy wholesale to give away! - is “Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers. It was through that book that I learned how important and powerful are the scriptural injunctions to “rejoice always and . . . give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We can do so, no matter how difficult or painful the situation if we trust that God truly will “work out everything for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
— The Rev. Kathleen Christopher, Director of Healing Prayer
The greatest lesson I ever received on being thankful was an unexpected byproduct of a family visit. I was traveling through Boston on the way to a vacation in Maine, and I stopped for a brief visit with my cousin Freddie. When Freddie was 16, he fell from a backyard jungle gym and broke his neck, which paralyzed him from the waist down. He was a brilliant young man, who upon graduating with a Ph.D. in computer engineering, turned down a nice offer from IBM in order to work to help make things better for those with physical disabilities. He was partly responsible for the passage of the National Disabilities Act and making streets accessible to people with disabilities. Fast-forward 30-40 years, and I was visiting him on a cold fall day in Boston with snow on the ground. He was a quadriplegic, flat on the bed, only able to move his head. Due to another medical issue, he had to drink water every few minutes in order to keep his throat lubricated so he could speak. Just before our visit he had been on a conference call with leaders of the disability movement and members of Congress. His calendar was always fully booked. I happened to mention his swallowing and drinking issue, on top of all his other medical issues. Then came the life lesson on thankfulness and not grumbling. He said, “Background noise, background noise I don’t pay attention to it.”
— The Rev. Rick Wright, Director of Congregational Care
Of course, we all go through challenging seasons. I find that in harder seasons, gratitude for what I do have with thanksgiving to God goes a long way in reorienting my soul in the direction of peace and joy. Opportunities to travel overseas and to the inner cities have given me a reminder that, no matter how hard things are in a season, I still have so much to be thankful for that I shouldn’t (and I try not to) take these material things for granted. Just a short list: Food (safe food) to eat, clean drinking water, emergency rooms at good hospitals, freedom to worship Jesus Christ without real threat of danger, good roads and laws that make them safer to drive, and the freedom to cast a vote that matters. And there’s so much to be thankful for spiritually, and these are the things that actually matter! Salvation, forgiveness of sins, the presence of Jesus with me, the love of God, the Eucharist, meaningful purpose by advancing the Kingdom of God in the world, and community to do it with. When I step back, I think of Psalm 30:12. “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”
— The Rev. Bill Haley, Associate Rector
I notice Paul’s caveat in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 about giving thanks “in all circumstances.” That means giving thanks for those things which bring me joy, but also for those that bring sorrow. In Christ, I can give thanks even for the tragic and trying moments in my life, for I know that God uses these things to woo me closer to Himself. As C.S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures ... but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Whatever personal season I find myself in, I have an opportunity to reflect with gratitude on all those gifts God has given me - the pleasurable as well as the painful - and to do so with a heart eager to draw closer to the Lord. He is ready for me.
— The Rev. Will Shafferman, Pastoral Associate
Several years ago, a friend gave me the book “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. The premise of the book is simple: embrace everyday blessings and you will be transformed by God’s grace. The best part is that it’s true. When I cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving, of giving thanks, I see the world in a new way. Problems that crop up and demand attention are put in their rightful place when I focus on gratitude towards God rather than the nature of the problem. Thanksgiving is a practical spiritual discipline in that it opens us up to experience God and our world in a way that changes us from inwardly focusing on ourselves to setting our eyes on God. So give thanksgiving to God lavishly, especially when you don’t feel like it. When we do that, we will experience God’s loving grace.
— The Rev. Lisa Henderson, Director of the Care Team