Gratitude is not an easy thing to practice at times like these. When living through such a lengthy period of uncertainty, sadness and anxiety, giving thanks can feel like the last thing we want to do.
World-spanning issues such as coronavirus, extreme poverty and the climate crisis can be difficult to engage with, because they feel so disempowering. What can we do as individuals about the climate of an entire planet?
The more you delve into the climate crisis, the more nightmarish it becomes. At the beginning of the year, a group of leading scientists warned of a ‘ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals’.
But what if gratitude did not need to be a casualty of these difficult days, but instead could be a remedy for them?
Gratitude is an antidote to despair. It reminds us that we have faced challenges before, and overcome them. It reminds us that God is bigger than our circumstances. And it reminds us that, no matter what else is going on, there is always much we can love – and love never fails.
It is often when we feel as though we have the least amount to be thankful for that giving thanks is the most important thing we can do. You do not need to feel grateful to give thanks, but giving thanks can make you feel more grateful.
This is why Paul declared in the New Testament, ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Always. Continually. In all circumstances. That’s quite the challenge. And yet gratitude is a muscle – the more we put it to use, the stronger it becomes. And the stronger it becomes, the more it can help transform our lives and the world around us.
We are unlikely to protect what we do not love, and we are unlikely to love what we do not know. Gratitude can bring us into a greater knowing of the world; it nourishes our love, making it grow and, in doing so, making us want to do more to protect it.
With that in mind, here are three prayer practices to take into February, each of which can help us draw closer to creation through gratitude. Choose whichever one appeals to you most and set yourself the challenge of trying it every day for a whole week. If you find it helps, perhaps you could adopt it as a practice for Lent? If you’re feeling especially keen, you can always try more than one!
1. Saying grace
At the last supper, when Jesus took the bread and wine into his hands, the first thing he did was to give thanks (Matthew 26:26-27).
The decline of the traditional dinner table meal in recent years has led to the decline of another tradition – saying grace. Yet this can be a beautiful way to connect us with creation.
Before each meal, take time to think about the food on your plate. Where did it come from? Who were the farmers responsible for it? How much rain and sunlight were involved in helping the vegetables to grow? If you eat meat, what sort of life did the animal live?
Give thanks for all these things. For the farms and the farmers; for the sunlight, the rain and the soil; and for the lives of the animals and plants who give us sustenance.
Read Psalm 104:10-14.
2. Gratitude walksDuring lockdown, one of the things that has helped keep us sane has been the daily exercise we can take. Why not combine this with prayers of gratitude for creation?As you are walking around your local area, take notice of creation around you. Whether you live in the city or the countryside, God’s good works surround you.Grass. Trees. Birds. The sky (or, more likely in the UK, the clouds). All created by God. All indications of glory and goodness. As you walk, pay close attention to these things, and give thanks.
Read Psalm 19:1-6.
Gratitude journals are helpful ways to cultivate more thankfulness in our lives.
If you do not already have one, find a notebook you can write in every day. Or, simply use a note-taking app on your computer or phone (although there is something satisfying about pen and paper!).
Every day, write down something about creation that you love. It could be the song of a blackbird. Or the feeling of snow crunching underfoot. Or a particular landscape you enjoy looking at. Hold it in your heart as you write.
It helps to do this at the same time every day, so that you form a habit of gratitude.
Read Psalm 100.