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Opinion >  Column

Faith and Values: Reminding yourself why you’re grateful can change your life

Spokane FāVS editor Tracy Simmons.   (Nataly Davies)
Spokane FāVS editor Tracy Simmons.  (Nataly Davies)

When I was a kid, my mom and I would pray together before dinner, but our words weren’t very sincere.

We always uttered the same thing:“Thank you, God, for this food and for the hands that prepared it … “

Because it was a habit, to me the phrase lost its meaning.

As I grew older, I stopped praying before meals; not because I wasn’t thankful, but because it felt dishonest.

Recently, though, I started a new gratitude practice.

Before dinner, my partner and I say “gratefuls.”

It’s exactly what it sounds like.

We verbalize to each other what we are grateful for that day.

I find myself thinking about it when I wake up in the morning, while I commute to and from work, when I’m in between classes, etc.

I try to be intentional in keeping a rejoicing heart.

Since we’ve been doing this over the past three months, I’ve noticed a change in my attitude.

Diana Butler Bass was right. Being thankful really does change things.

Because it’s a spiritual awareness, it’s pausing to recognize the good in our lives and all around us, and learning to keep that perception at the forefront of our minds.

Bass is a historian and progressive Christian author. She published “Grateful” in 2018, and I’m lucky enough to have been able to interview her twice.

In preparation for this column, I picked up my copy of the book (with a note from Bass to me!) and re-read it.

I was struck by this passage, where she’s talking about gratitude being hard: “… Ingratitude caught up with me. I realized I needed to do better, understand more deeply, and trust that a life of thankfulness held out new possibilities for hope, joy, and love.”

Especially now, when it’s dark at 5 p.m. and it’s cold, and I’m burned out at work and frustrated by politics, it’s difficult to be appreciative.

Thanklessness can so easily take over and wrap me in a darkness.

When this happens, I come home grumpy and discouraged and unmotivated.

How quickly we forget our blessings.

Bass uses this quote from Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast to start her book: “Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.”

I’m surrounded by so much that truly enhances my life and recognizing that, like the monk says, makes me feel alive, almost in an intoxicating way.

Sometimes we need to stop and look for those moments, those things, those people – those gifts in our lives.

For instance, in the mornings, my dog needs to go out and the chickens need to be fed and watered. I don’t like doing this in my pajama pants where the neighbors can see me. I don’t like standing there in the cold while my dog takes his time to find just the right place to do his business.

I could start my day annoyed, and certainly have.

Or I can start my day enjoying nature. I’ve always been a bird nerd. I love listening to them and watching them and trying to identify them.

I go out for my morning chores just as the birds are hopping along branches and singing their loudest, and I give thanks.

That gratitude builds throughout the day, just like negativity could if I let it.

This Thanksgiving, you’ll probably be asked to go around the table and say what you’re grateful for. Start thinking about it now. It won’t be hard to find something sincere to say, and hopefully gratefuls will become a daily practice in your life, instead of an annual one.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a Washington State University scholarly assistant professor and the editor of SpokaneFāVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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