Gratitude does not flow out of happiness. Rather, gratitude creates happiness, according to Diana Butler Bass. It is an essential practice that positions us to receive life’s blessings and burdens with openness and trust. Giving thanks with a grateful heart is transformative.
Melodie Beattie says this about gratitude:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life…. It makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
Being grateful is a powerful guiding force for managing even the hardest aspects of being human.
“Being grateful is a powerful guiding force for managing even the hardest aspects of being human.”
Perhaps you grew up in one of those families who required words of gratitude before you could enjoy the Thanksgiving feast, or at least before you could have dessert! Even if we thought it was hokey, we were always impressed to hear the elders express their much wiser perspective on how they view life. Their capacity to understand life backwards, as Parker Palmer instructs, allows a perception of God’s guiding hand when it was not apparent on the surface of quotidian events. Making sense of the past is the ongoing work of gratitude.
I love word clouds, for they are revelatory about our patterns of speech. Of course, I talk a lot about my school, and friends’ eyes glaze as I describe all that Central is about these days. I was glad to hear the perception of a friend who commented on how often I use the word grateful. I hope that is true, for I have many things for which to be grateful.
Here are some of the things for which I am giving thanks this year:
- I am grateful for the visionary founders of Central Baptist Theological who in 1901 created a free-standing seminary in Kansas City, Kansas. They believed in an “educated clergy” no matter what educational preparation one brought to pastoral formation. We have sought to extend their dream even today, especially to those who are members of immigrant communities.
- I am grateful for the donors who sustain our mission. Faithful friends continue to give, and they make possible the formation of creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts. They secure the future of the school by making provision in their estate planning, which is essential for ongoing vocational preparation of new leaders.
- I am grateful for the Baptist tributary that flows from the great ecclesial river whose springs date to the first century C.E. Jesus called a new community into being, and the Spirit has prompted many expressions of his prophetic imagination for the people of God. My beloved teacher Glenn Hinson taught me to wade back through the Baptist tributary to the main stream so as to value our larger heritage.
- I am grateful for a vocation that keeps “making more out of me,” in the words of Gail Godwin. Theological education is my deepest passion, and I am grateful for the nearly 40 years I have spent in it. If you add the seven years of masters and doctoral work, it is approaching epic biblical numbers.
- I am grateful for a family with a heritage of faith. My great grandfather on the maternal side and my great uncle on the paternal side were Baptist preachers, in Indian Territory and central Texas, respectively. While I may not be what the family tree thought it was seeding, I carry their legacy of ministerial identity.
- I am grateful for a Sunday school class that asks hard questions, does not accept simplistic answers and bears one another’s burdens. It is a place where I can lay down presidential persona and receive the good-natured ribbing I deserve when pomposity lurks. It is also a generous group who without fail sends money with me to Myanmar for a health clinic.
- I am grateful for colleagues who bring excellence to leadership, teaching, care of students and scholarship. Because our school is globally connected, we get to meet persons from around the world, which teaches me about the expanse of the reign of God. Their insights of how the Gospel takes root in different cultures provides new insight about the beauty of the Body of Christ.
- I am grateful for students who have taught me more than I have taught them. Their passion for justice, their fearless questions and their willingness to risk new forms of ministry have challenged me to greater faith, hope and love. Churches and communities are richer because of their graceful and sacrificial service.
So, what is on your list? “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).