What Cultivates Gratitude? Or Better Yet, What Does Gratitude Cultivate?

I was tasked with writing a blog post on gratitude for this week- Thanksgiving week. I love it when my team gets together without me while I’m on sabbatical and sends me an email telling me what to write 🙂  It’s a given- a post with a theme of thankfulness- even though as a culture we’ve seemed to skip right to Christmas once Halloween ends. 

I’ve written about counting your blessings and even counting your first-world problems and being thankful when tasked with the same thing before. 

But what keeps jumping back into my mind this year as I think about how to articulate some inspiration for gratitude is to cite Bryan Stephenson. I had the opportunity to hear Stephenson at a conference I attended this fall.  Bryan Stephenson is the author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.  

He is obviously an in-demand speaker.  He apparently charged the group nothing for an almost hour-long talk.  He started the session by thanking the people in the audience for the work they do.  Mostly public servants in the audience who spend their days helping people on the margins, he made reference to how some of the services the group was involved in impacted him as a child. 

He thanked and he thanked and he thanked before he moved into any form of argument or points. 

But his points were powerful, and also speak to a heart of gratitude I believe that then leads to a heart of grace and mercy, and then one of action. 

In speaking about the marginalized, or “least of these” Stephenson made four points: 

  1. Commit to getting proximate.  We can’t help if we aren’t close because then we don’t know what we don’t know.  We need to affirm people’s humanity to help them get to higher ground and realize that all our journeys are tied to one another.  
  2. We have to change our narratives.  This means we have to talk about things we haven’t talked about before.  He says we have to, “acknowledge, confess, and repent.”  My favorite quote of the night was, “Beautiful things happen when we tell the truth.  We close ourselves off to beauty when we don’t tell the truth.” 
  3. We have to believe in hope.  This means believing in things we haven’t yet seen and being confident that in getting proximate and changing narratives, they will become seen. 
  4. We have to do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient.  Really, the first three things echo this point.  Getting proximate is uncomfortable and inconvenient.  Changing our narratives and telling the truth is uncomfortable. Staying hopeful is not only uncomfortable, it is also inconvenient to train our brains to be so.  But in the end, and in the journey itself, that is where the beauty lies. 

I hope you’ll take this week to be thankful and it will lead you to grace and mercy, which will then inspire you to action.  

During this holiday season, where do you need to get proximate, change a narrative, have hope, and/or be uncomfortable or inconvenienced? 

Mary Ila Ward

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