Gratitude is a part of true healing. One can regain wellness, but without gratitude healing remains incomplete, at least on a spiritual level. Think about the ten lepers Jesus healed as he traveled between Samaria and Galilee. Ten were healed and told to show themselves to the priest. Only one of them returned to give thanks. Perhaps the others were off doing as they had been told. They were no longer lepers and a priest could allow them back into community. Maybe they were grateful. Yet only one expressed gratitude to Jesus and received a pronouncement of wellness. His faith had made him well.
There is a link between gratitude and wellness that we don’t spend much time thinking about. Today is World Mental Health Day with an emphasis on suicide prevention. Maybe we should make a day next week that is World Gratitude Day to help combat the sense of hopelessness that contributes to the every-climbing suicide rates. What might happen in the world if we all to time to give thanks for moments of healing, however fleeting? What might shift in us all if we trusted that God views us as whole and desires healing for ever person? What might ignite in us if we thanked God for healing, large and small? Would we be able to join that one leper in faith making us well?
Over a decade ago I found redemption while working as a clinical chaplain at a state hospital. I had spent so much of my life hiding my struggles with depression, an eating disorder, and suicidality. By the fall of 2008 these struggles were mostly in the past, but I felt a lot of shame about them. I still wondered if my early mental health challenges were a reflection of my inadequacy as a Christian. Gratitude wasn’t absent from my life, but it wasn’t at the center. I was too busy trying to hide where I had been, that I never took time to be grateful for having made it through.
When I started working at the state hospital, I discovered that my past struggles were an asset. I knew what it was like to be a psychiatric in-patient. I knew what it felt like to feel hopeless and powerless. I knew the lies depression whispers in the bleakest moments. I also knew that these things were survivable. I could offer authentic hope. One day I found myself remarkably grateful for all that I had been through. I was not grateful for the suffering. I was grateful for the survival, survival that led to me embracing and enjoying life. Survival shifted to wholeness when gratitude entered in. God had placed people and opportunities in my path that all led to healing. I didn’t know how well I was until I could whole-heartedly give thanks to God for all things.
Maybe those other nine lepers took time to figure out that they, too, had been made well. They could see their healing, but maybe it took a while to experience their wholeness and give thanks. Gratitude doesn’t always come immediately. Some of us are slow healers and need time to realize just what has happened in our lives. Maybe gratitude would come quickly if we practiced it more freely and more intentionally.
What are you thankful for today? In this moment, I am grateful I have access to good healthcare. I’m also grateful for the dog curled up under my feet and the cat curled up behind my head. When I stop to look around, I’m thankful for season change and the beauty of autumn leaves. I can list a number of people I am grateful for, too. Mostly, though, I am thankful for my life, my work, my wife, and all that God calls me to be a part of.
Gratitude doesn’t depend on our wellness, though. We can be grateful for the simplest things when we are struggling in body, mind, or spirit. Being grateful for a hot cup of tea, a text from a friend, a smile from a stranger can shift our spirits. In those moments we step closer to the wholeness God sees in us. Perhaps in our moments of gratitude, we also bring a little healing into the world for someone else.
Gratitude won’t fix anything that is wrong in the world. It will, however, open us to the possibilities of a better future, a future that honors God, neighbor, self, and creation. If we stop taking our lives for granted and give thanks for this day (and every day), we might discover that we are bearers of divine love and hope that the world desperately needs. It doesn’t matter if gratitude comes quickly to you, like that one leper, or if it is slower to come to your lips, possibly like the other nine. What matters is that we cultivate gratitude always and everywhere. It’s not a contest or a means to show God’s favor. Gratitude is simply acknowledging all that God has done for us.
Thank you for reading. May you be filled with gratitude. And may you run and tell the others the glories of God.
RCL – Year C – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 with Psalm 66:1-12 or
2 Kings 5:1-3,7-15c with Psalm 111 and
2 Timothy 2:8-15 and