Gratitude and Grace
by Rev. Stacy Emerson
In her new book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, Diana Butler Bass writes about a friend going through a painful personal crisis. Unsure of the purpose of his life, anxious and depressed, he said, “I think…that I’m really having a spiritual crisis.” Diana shared a book of gratitude quotes with him and found that he centered on this plea: “God, help me to quiet my noisy, worrisome mind in my ordinary world. Help me to relax in the familiar and to be aware of and appreciate it.” Diana writes, “My friend was not asking for a dramatic healing, for answers to be written in the sky, or for God to fix his problems. He wanted to see the world around him more fully and deeply, to develop greater awareness, and to be grateful for what was already there.”
That’s it, isn’t it? The heart of a contented life, of being at peace with oneself and circumstance, and at home in the world—is to be grateful. To recognize the grace of God as it comes moment by moment. Gratitude, really, is essentially our capacity to see and experience grace. These two words, gratitude and grace, actually share the same root—gratus, which means giving thanks. Gratitude is more than an emotion, then; it is something we do—something we need to pay attention to, work at, and tend like a garden. The poet WH Auden said, “I know nothing, except what everyone knows—if there when Grace dances, I should dance.”
Grace is why we gather to worship and to share our testimonies of faith, both the struggles and the insights, so that we can find the courage to be God’s people in the world. Grace is why we have ministries of caring and welcoming and forgiveness and all it takes to be community—because we know the importance of bearing witness to grace. It is about a mission that we all commit to, that we volunteer for, that we donate toward, that we attend to steadily, all for the purpose of responding to what is needed, and responding with joy, and abundance, and love, and hope. That is why the church exists. And it is there we will find ourselves, incredibly, indescribably, amazingly, working side by side with God, and there is no greater purpose.
Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Facilitator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.