Photo Credit: Marc Perrault
Leading a retreat last week, I said that gratitude saved my life during depression; it has been the single most important spiritual practice of my life, especially during grief. We had a beautiful conversation about the authenticity of gratitude and how challenging the practice is. We talked about what happens when thankfulness is forced on us rather than freely chosen, or how damaging it can be when it feels false or glosses over pain.
The conversation sat with me over thanksgiving weekend, and I was reflecting on Ann Voskamp’s insistence that “thanksgiving precedes the miracle.” I was remembering Jesus at the last supper: “When he had given thanks, he broke the bread and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19a).
As I was reading stories to my littlest and listening to my older kids play with their cousin, I was overwhelmed by the grammar of God’s gratitude. In the gospel, thanksgiving is a dependent clause. Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread to give it to us. Gratitude saved my life because it was interconnected to the action that followed it. Separated from my life, words of thanks are empty at best, and repressive at worst.
Integrated into the sentences that follow, thanksgiving grounds me in reality seeing what is good even in the midst of the deepest pain. Thanks acknowledges what is as well as well as my need. Gratitude pours me out so I can be filled. Thanksgiving pushes me toward the next right thing.
And so I felt the need to write a litany of thanksgiving and the actions that follow them, the thanksgiving and living that lets God in and works the miracles that follow.
A Thanksgiving Litany
When he had given thanks, he broke the bread and gave it to them.
When she had given thanks, she set down her drink and went to a meeting.
When she had given thanks, she cried for all the times she fought back tears.
When she had given thanks, she decided to start over.
Giving thanks, he stopped fighting and went to a parenting class.
Giving thanks, he called a friend and asked to talk.
Giving thanks, he apologized to the one he hurt.
Whispering thanks, she received the help that was offered.
Speaking thanks aloud, she stopped apologizing for existing.
Shouting thanks, she walked into the world that was waiting for her.
Offering thanks, he allowed another to heal him.
Laughing thanks, he took his place on the team.
Delighting with thanks, he accepted the job.
Resisting thanks, they saw the beauty in the sun rising over their broken hearts.
Without understanding thanks, they buried the one gone too soon.
Crying thanks, they held the ones still living.
Seeing gratitude where there was only darkness, we called the number on the back of the card.
Seeing gratitude as a way to hope, we went to therapy appointments.
Seeing gratitude as a promise, we chose to trust again.
When we had given thanks, we ate the feast and missed you.
When we had given thanks, we gave the kids a bath and put them to bed, again.
When we had given thanks, we went to bed to try again tomorrow.
When Jesus had given thanks, he broke the bread and gave it to them.
When he had given thanks, he asked John to take care of his mother.
When he had given thanks, Jesus breathed his last breath and trusted.