“Holy habits deepen into fixed patterns of life. We experience a growing preponderance of right actions flowing from a right heart” (Richard Foster in Streams of Living Water).
This powerful quote from a major figure in the revival of the concept of spiritual formation teaches us that when we are focused on transforming our own lives, we can transform the world around us. This post is the third in a series devoted to transforming our inner selves in 2019 through simple spiritual practices.
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“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend” (Melody Beattie).
The centrality of gratitude to a well-lived life has been expressed hundreds, perhaps thousand, of times. I chose to use the quote above because Beattie is a leading writer in the 12-step movement, which emphasizes the importance of gratitude to an addiction-free life. My experience in the 12 steps has taught me that gratitude makes hard choices easier and paves the way for appreciation instead of resentment. A heart-felt “Thank you!” can erase crankiness, anxiety, and fear.
So how do we consciously bring gratitude into our lives? I ran across a phrase in Richard Rohr’s writing that can help each of us strengthen our hearts of gratitude: Treasures old and new. Try making a list of your past and current treasures. Read it at least once a week – more often if you are sad or cranky. Try to relive the experience as you write the treasure and later as you read it.
As you make your list, remember that gratitude can be found in acts of sadness as well as joy. I remember my feelings of gratitude when I gifted a close friend with my grandmother’s desk when we moved from a house to an apartment. It was a beautiful desk, a well-crafted piece of furniture, a genuine antique. It was scratched in places, one drawer wouldn’t being fully close, and a large ink stain (remember fountain pens?) graced the bottom of another drawer. I often pictured my grandmother sitting at the desk or addressing a card in her beautiful handwriting or concentrating on her genealogy work. I could see dozens of beautiful red roses climbing a white trellis right outside her window next to the desk. It was a comforting memory.
After my grandmother died in the early 1970’s, I was so grateful to inherit that desk, which I used for 30 years. I polished it every week It survived several moves. I wrote two books at that desk as well as letters to my Compassion International kids and to prisoners in the Ottawa County Jail and the Lapeer Correctional Facility. I addressed birthday cards, Christmas cards, and get-well cards at that desk. I did our household financial work at that desk. And every time I sat down to work, I thought of my grandmother.
Two years ago, we decided to move into an apartment. Sadly there was no room for the desk. I decide it to give it to a well-loved friend, but I wasn’t sure she would want this old piece of furniture. Her interest in the stories behind the desk and excitement about taking it to use as a place for her sewing machine brought tears to my heart. When she and her teen-aged daughter (who also loved the desk ) came to pick it up, I was filled with gratitude for the pleasure that lovely piece of furniture gave to my grandmother, me, and now my friend and her daughter.
My desk and its memories are an old treasure. Here is one of my new treasures: a two-foot high two stem Amaryllis, given to me very unexpectedly by a good friend when it was just a 2 – inch stump. It stayed stubby for several weeks and then it began to grow – and grow! Now it is about to bloom, and I’m thrilled. Every time I look at that treasure I think of how our friendship has grown and bloomed over many years. Gratitude!
Take some time to think about your treasures, old and new. Make a list of the people, things, and experiences that give you joy and make you grateful. Relive memories; tell others your stories. The gratitude you uncover will be the best medicine for your day and will fuel an attitude of life that will grace your world.