Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Jesus did not begin the Beatitudes with this one by accident. Poverty of spirit makes every ensuing virtue and blessing possible.
Who are the poor in spirit? Those who recognize their radical dependence on God. Thus, gratitude fills and forms their hearts.
But this is not just any gratitude, not proud or entitled, but humble, ready to receive God’s blessings as pure unmerited grace. So poverty of spirit is humble gratitude, and it conditions the Beatitude virtues of honest mourning, meekness, desiring a right relationship with God, and so forth. It also opens our hands to receive blessings such as comfort, home, and a heart filled with love.
Gratitude takes practice. Like all other species, humans survived the exigencies of evolution with a brain vigilant for threats to ward off or to escape. Thus, we have a negative bias. We must therefore practice gratitude to balance our perspective, to be realistic enough to receive blessings despite life’s perils.
What better practice with which to start than keeping a daily gratitude list? It only takes a few minutes, and what a happy and healing time! If you don’t already do it, try writing down daily several events of the day for which you give thanks. Reflect on the last 24 hours, and record whatever happens that warmed your heart, consoled you, gave you peace, or just awakened you a little more to beauty or kindness in your world. Nothing is too small; in fact, small is especially good.
When I started this practice, I knew about the considerable research showing that daily gratitude listing improves mood, self-care, and connection with others. It gets practitioners into the habit of embracing life. Concurrently, I recorded times when I felt desolate or anxious. I did not want to practice gratitude as an escape from darkness; rather, I invited the blessings to accompany me through it.
After a few weeks, I noticed that this daily journaling practice changed my days. Like a drop of blue ink in a glass of water, it spread and colored my entire experience. I lived with alert expectancy of blessings even as I endured serious trials, and at day’s end, I noted what I found. While the change was gradual and subtle, God’s love became more palpable in the course of my days. Even the smallest blessings became more like burning bushes from which I heard a call to carry that love in every encounter and in the solitude of my heart.
I did not do it primarily for therapy. I did it for my soul. Obstacles to hearing God’s loving words cluttered my inner sanctum. Worries, lusts, high self-expectations, and notions of unworthiness clamored for my attention, and both fighting them and capitulating made them louder. Gratitude quieted them and made my heart a sanctuary, a place to worship the One who gives all good things.
Examen Prayer: Catching Up With God at the End of the Day
Ignatius Dreams: A Young Man Learns Discernment and Teaches the World
Radical Gratitude: How the First Beatitude Changed Me
One of the hard things about gratitude is we have made it such a huge part of our social life. We are told to say thank you, even if we do not mean it.
Getting past that is hard for many.
Good point. To feed the soul, gratitude must be freely chosen from the heart, not mere conformity to social expectations.
Thank you, Marshall, for this timely message. I needed a reminder about the importance of an intentional, gratitude-filled heart towards God. I have been focusing too much lately on the negative things happening around me, and as such have found my soul somewhat darkened and not as connected with a sense of God’s goodness. I would love to share a printed copy of this message at a workshop I am doing at a conference for Presbyterian women in October. Please advise me as to whether you grant permission for such occasions and if so, how I might obtain permission to share this in printed form. Blessings.
Of course! Please do share it. I’m so glad it has been personally meaningful to you, and I will pray for your soul as well.
I was very blessed by this timely reminder of the importance of intentionally making time to express gratitude to God throughout the day. It truly makes a difference in how I “see” and respond to all things in life. May I share a printed copy of this message to share at a workshop in October that I am doing for about 50 Presbyterian women?
Glad you underscored the point that gratitude helps us see our lives anew! Thank you for sharing the post with the Presbyterian women!