By Father Casey
A few years ago, Pew surveyed several thousand American religious people, and among the things they wanted to know was how often they felt a strong sense of gratitude. Once a week? Once a month? A few times a year? Never?
You might be surprised to learn that 78% of respondents reported feeling a strong sense of gratitude that week. That’s an impressive number: four out of five people!
Maybe we don’t need a day for giving thanks after all, if four out of five people are already feeling strongly thankful every single week!
And we know that gratitude is good for us. Scientists say that gratitude has measurable effects upon our wellbeing. Regularly feeling thankful can reduce your blood pressure, improve your mental health, help you get better sleep, and positively boost your overall health. Thankfulness is good for you mind, body, and soul.
And this got me wondering…if 4/5 people are feeling a strong sense of gratitude every week, and gratitude makes us happier and healthier people, then why is it that levels of depression and anxiety are now measuring far higher than ever before? Why is it that so many people seem angrier, more frustrated, and less content than ever before? If most of us are that grateful, why do we seem so very ungrateful?
There’s a story in Luke’s Gospel (17:11-19) about a day when Jesus encountered ten lepers on the road between Galilee and Samaria. They cried out for help, and as he always does in response to suffering, Jesus answered. He told them to appear before the priests, which was a clue that something important was about to change, for they were not allowed anywhere near the town due to their sickness. And sure enough, as they went, they were suddenly healed. It is a life-changing miracle. Their lives are literally transformed for the better. And yet, Luke says only one of the 10 comes back to Jesus to offer thanks.
Now, I have to imagine that the nine other lepers were thankful. Their lives had just been changed. They could return to their families and communities. They could resume jobs and do things they hadn’t been able to do in who knows how many years. If Pew had surveyed them that day, they would most certainly have answered that they’d felt a “strong sense of gratitude” in the previous week.
The problem was that they kept that feeling of gratitude to themselves. It didn’t go anywhere. It remained a feeling, and then, like most feelings, it was replaced by the next feeling. Maybe they got to town and ran into friends, and there was a celebration. Maybe they returned home and discovered a problem with their house. Whatever it was, their feeling of gratitude stayed just that – a feeling – and then it went away.
The reason four out of five people in our country say they feel a strong sense of gratitude, and yet we are still suffering from an epidemic of depression, anxiety, and contempt in our society is that we’re like those lepers. We limit gratitude to a feeling. We feel it alright, even strongly sometimes, but more often than not, we don’t do anything with it. It doesn’t flow out from us into the world. It doesn’t become anything.
We need to follow the example of that one Samaritan leper who turned around and came back to Jesus. He realized that gratitude is work. Good, soul-blessing, life-giving work. And as a result, he is the only one Jesus says was “saved.” Jesus healed all ten of the lepers, but only the one who returned experienced true transformation and the full power of God’s grace.
I hope this next week is filled with feelings of gratitude. I hope you take time to remember the multitude of good things in your life for which you are thankful – “for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love,” to quote the General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer (p 836). I hope you will pause on Wednesday evening to join us for a Service of Thanksgiving with our friends from Abundant Life AME Church (register here).
But my greatest hope is that we will follow the example of that one Samaritan leper, and move from feeling grateful to doing gratitude. For that is how our hearts will be truly opened to let the grace of God settle deeply within, and how we, too, will be saved.
 Diana Butler Bass, Grateful, xiv.