There are a number of qualities or characteristics that mark the mature disciple. None of us is ever done in the growing, and there are some aspects that we will struggle with more than others. But each characteristic reflects the life of Jesus in us and enables us to be stronger and more intentional disciples.
The first of these is gratitude. Gratitude is about being thankful, but it is more. The root of the word means “good will” and is connected to grace. So to have gratitude is to be of good will and live/act in a grace-filled way.
The distinction is not a small one. When I was a teenager, my mother was reading a book with a title something like “Give Thanks Anyway”, a reflection of the words in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18: give thanks in all circumstances. Now my 16 year old self thought this was the stupidest thing I had heard. Clearly there were countless circumstances for which you would be anything but thankful.
We think of being thankful as related to specific experiences or things: we give thanks for food, for loving family, for a new job. But being thankful when life is falling apart, hard, tragic, or just overwhelming is too hard.
What if, though, we changed these words to “be full of good will and grace in all circumstances”? In other words, to have gratitude.
Gratitude takes practice. It’s fairly easy when life is fine. It’s more challenging as the difficulties and hurts of life pile up. Of course we aren’t thankful for rotten moments or events in life. But what if we were so grounded in gratitude that those moments could not derail us or overwhelm our hearts? Or if we were surrounded by people of gratitude who held us in good will and grace when we were falling apart?
Gratitude reminds us, first and foremost, that what we have, who we are, all the gifts of creation, don’t come from our efforts or brilliance or because we’re so special. To express gratitude to our Creator daily reminds us these things are gifts. Simply saying “grace” before a meal reminds us of God who gave us the gifts of creation, those who grew the food, those who brought it to our community, those who prepared it, those who serve it.
This kind of everyday gratitude grows an attitude of good will to others–to those who help provide our needs and to those who do not have what they need. If all is gift at its root (of course we and others work to make the most of the gifts put before us) then we know we do not own it and that these gifts are for everyone. This kind of everyday gratitude grows an attitude of grace and love and dispels harmful things like envy or resentment or greed.
Be full of good will and grace in all circumstances. May the Spirit guide you to grow in this day by day as you follow in The Way of Jesus.