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Ted’s Litany of Thanks

After Ted died, his son sent me a paper he had found while going through his dad’s things. Ted had entitled it Giving Thanks, and it began with these words.

If I don’t get a chance to tell you, I’m so incredibly thankful for these people, places, and things in my life . . . 

The first item on the long list was “the people who taught me to read.” Ted had been a voracious reader his entire life. The other items included people who were special to him, the colleges where he earned his degrees, a favorite food, his first kiss, and music that he loved. His list evoked a mixture of laughter and tears. It helped deepen my gratitude for the many gifts I’ve been given – including my long friendship with Ted.

Gratitude – giving heartfelt thanks – is an attitude at the core of the spiritual life. It is at the heart of Job’s affirmation: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.” (Job 1:21) Gratitude acknowledges that everything we have – beginning with life itself – is a gift. Recognizing our giftedness and responding with gratitude help define our stance toward life, the way we see life and respond to it.

The spiritual significance of gratitude includes recognizing God as the source of our giftedness. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures celebrate the way gratitude causes our hearts to overflow with thanks and praise.

Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise. (Ps 95:2)

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:16-17)

When gratitude becomes a way of life and a hallmark of our spiritual journey, it has the power to transform us.

Gratitude grounds our life in humility. It gives us a deep appreciation for what we can neither earn nor deserve – from life and health to forgiveness and love. Gratitude overpowers the illusion of being entitled – the notion that we deserve our gifts, that our hard work earned them, that we have a right to own them, and that we can use them for our own purposes. We are human, humble, and spiritually poor: in need of God and the generosity of others.

One of my clients is a highly driven entrepreneur. After launching and growing a successful business, he sold it when he was in his 70’s. As a result, he became a rich man. I commented to him about how hard he had worked to build the business. He looked at me with an awkward smile, shook his head, and said: “I was very, very lucky.” Yes, he had worked hard. But he was both humble enough and honest enough to recognize that his success went well beyond his own ability. He had been gifted with more than he had earned or deserved.

Gratitude also helps us cultivate simplicity – including the recognition of how little we need. The opposite of simplicity is the notion that “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Simplicity counteracts our desire to accumulate “stuff” and cling to our possessions. It rejects any idea of hoarding – particularly when doing so deprives others of what they need.

While Tracy was on a mission trip to Zambia, she experienced the utter simplicity of the women she met there. They provided a sharp contrast with what she experienced in her own suburban community. Here’s how she described the difference.

The women in Zambia have so little, and yet their God is so big. Here, we have so much. Yet, our God can be so small.

Gratitude helps cultivate the simplicity that acknowledges how big God is and how richly we have been blessed. It helps us create room in our hearts to level the differences that separate people. Gratitude helps eliminate the divides that separate rich from poor, those who have from those who don’t, and those who are “in” from those who are “out.” In short, gratitude builds connections and community.

There are many ways to view life. Ted’s Giving Thanks reminded me that one of them is seeing life as a litany of thanksgiving. He lived with a grateful heart, and he was a generous friend. Ted is one of the special people in my litany of thanksgiving, a friend for whom I will be forever grateful. Thanks, Ted! Rest in peace . . .

Invitation to Prayer

I hope this invitation to prayer deepens your sense of gratitude and encourages your heart to erupt with thanks and praise.

  • Take time to reflect on the many gifts you have received.
  • Write your own litany of thanksgiving – similar to Ted’s Giving Thanks – that lists the gifts both big and small that you have received.
  • Use the list as the springboard for a prayer of thanks and praise to God.

After you conclude your prayer:

  • Consider the introduction to Ted’s list: “If I don’t get a chance to tell you . . . “
  • Reflect on whether there are people you need to thank for the gifts they have given you.
  • Decide how you would like to thank them.