Thursday, November 4, 2021

The Language of Gratitude


Welcome to this sharing of Spiritual Journeys, hosted this month by Denise Krebs at Our topic is gratitude. Please join us and chime in.

A sermon pointed to the connection between gratitude and grace.  When I look at the words grace and gratitude together it seems obvious, but I had not thought of gratitude that way. But consider this... the word for thanks in Spanish... gracias.  And in Italian, grazie. 

The thing is, the connection surprised me. I couldn't get it, and I'm still not sure that I do. Am I overlooking the obvious that all good gifts (graces) come from God?  Am I making something out of nothing?  Why doesn't this work for me?

Frederick Buechner writes this about grace: Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

But what did I know of grace? Was it a "wow" moment from above? Did I think grace had to leave me with my mouth open and tears in my eyes? What about the time that our car broke down in the middle of Iowa, and a guy pulled in right next to us, his family in the car, the back seat full of diapers and baby clothes, and the trunk loaded with nothing but car parts. He insisted on giving us the exact part we needed, and would take no money for it. I was pretty sure that was grace.

And what about gratitude? I knew that an expression of gratitude was the expected response to every kindness that came along, but maybe somewhere in that practice I had become jaded. I often said thank you only because I should. I uttered it for each cookie and pencil and open door, but it didn't seem to mean much. Had I lost the connection to grace?

I'm pretty sure we never fully realize our blessings, but now I have to ask if I discern them at all. Maybe the work of the day and the juggling of this and that gets my mind so cluttered that I forget the important things. And then, by the grace of God, these important things, these graces, sort of slap me in the face and say, "Hey! Pay attention!" Maybe with this challenge of connecting grace to gratitude, I'll begin to get it.  

In Thessalonians we are urged to give thanks for everything, in every circumstance, because it is the will of God. I'm sure I could only do that by grace.  Maybe that, for me, is the connection. Only by the free gift of grace...

Mary Oliver expresses gratitude so beautifully in her poem Mindful:

Every day
….I see or hear
…………that more or less

kills me
….with delight,
……..that leaves me
…………like a needle

in the haystack
….of light.
……..It was what I was born for –
…………to look, to listen,

to lose myself
….inside this soft world –
…… instruct myself
…………over and over

in joy, 
….and acclamation.

  (read the rest here.)

She goes on to mention both the exceptional and the drab and ordinary. Her poem is another impetus to give thanks in every circumstance, for both beautiful and drab. 

I have surely been blessed well beyond my ability to discern grace, and well beyond my depth of gratitude. I can only pray for new insight, for a new heart, for the courage to share. 

Of the exceptional graces shown to me, I will share one which is appropriate to the season...

Years ago, shortly after the sudden death our little Andy, when gratitude was so hard to find, our 3-yr-old son Carl came home from preschool with a Native American grace he had learned for Thanksgiving, complete with gestures:

May the Great Spirit overhead                      - make a big circle above your head
In the future                                                      - extend your hand in front of you
As in the past                                                     - extend your hand behind you
Bring to our hearts                                           - put your hand on your heart
Much love and happiness                               - cross your hands over your heart

At a time when we most needed grace, there it was, a beautiful blessing, a fountain of grace from our own little one. 

November turns us toward Thanksgiving, and opens the door for grace. May our hearts overflow with gratitude.

PS: One practice of gratitude is to say grace at meals. Here is our traditional one:

Come, Lord Jesus
Be our guest
Let these gifts
To us be blessed.

If you have a grace tradition, I would love for you to share it in the comments. And may the grace of God be with you and yours this Thanksgiving season.


  1. Grace and gratitude side by side lead to a spiritual practice. Your reflections here help me to see those two words more clearly and what they mean in my own life.

  2. Karen, wow, this is rich and full of grace and gratitude. Thank you for all the thoughts that help us remember the graces given us. I was reminded while reading your post about the verse that Ruth shared. I had never noticed it before: "What do you have that you did not receive?" from I Corinthians 4:7. It was true for those Paul was writing to, and true for us as, as well, as your quote from Frederick Buechner reminded me.

    That Native American prayer that Carl brought home was a gift of grace to your family when it was needed, wasn't it? "In the future, as in the past, bring to our hearts much love and happiness." Surely it sounds like a grace gift from God and a promise that you would be able to again live a life of love after Andy's death. Thank you for your lovely post.

  3. Karen, I know from your description for your link that you struggled with this post; it is, however, deeply moving. It guides us to recognize gratitude as the core of our belief and being. As I read your thought-provoking words, I recalled the exodus and God's incredible provision for His children - and their grumbling about being better off in Egypt! Gratitude is an active, daily, moment-by-moment choice; when we're not feeling it or demonstrating it (alas), thank God for still pouring out His grace over us. "We are weak but He is strong" - great theology in those old childhood lyrics. His love is vast, incomprehensible. Faith is a productive struggle - and even faith is a gift. My heart aches with the remembrance of baby Andy. I can see 3-year-old Carl praying that simple prayer with those motions (children so love to do these) and it pierces my soul. Know that your words have profound power and meaning, my friend. I am grateful for them, and for you. <3

  4. Karen, you have moved me to ponder during and after your post. Sometimes, I feel that I have lost the art of gratitude when times get turned upside down. I thank you for patiently waiting for my journey to your post. I also thank you for a deeper meaning of the pairing of grace and gratitude. I see the word discernment pop up in your post and ah, this is a gift I have always sought. Perhaps, Mary Oliver's thoughts will become my message today: to lose myself
    ….inside this soft world –
    I need to rest in the moment and leave the busyness behind. Thank you, my friend, for your beautiful gift of words this month and opening your heart to us. For me, this post is in itself my morning prayer of thanks.

  5. I really appreciated your reflections here, Karen. Sometimes it is so hard to focus on gratitude, or to see grace, because things are just so hard. It's beautiful that you've found grace in some of those terribly tough moments. <3