My list was already three pages long, and I was still going strong. But this handwritten reminder of my blessings deviated from lists I'd made in the past.
When it comes to gratitude, I'm grateful to say that there seems much to be grateful for in my life. In the case of this list, though, the difference was the verb tense.
Gratitude has been on my mind because of something I read in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." The author, Mary Baker Eddy, asked, "Are we really grateful for the good already received?" She followed up the query by adding, "Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more" (p. 3).
In the past, I'd always thought the question was urging me to ask myself if I was genuinely grateful for the blessings I'd seen in my life. Yes, I'd thought, I was. I could make magnificent lists of them, or simply use each moment to thank God for all the good He had given me in the past. And while there's nothing wrong with gratitude in retrospect, what struck me recently as I read that question again was that it wasn't just talking about a looking-back kind of thankfulness.
That idea dawned on me as I thought through some of what I know about God. Like the fact that God is infinite. That He's good. That He's always active and ever present. Put those qualities together and you get a here-and-now, ever-operative goodness that knows not a single limit. It's a goodness that's substantiating the universe. A goodness that embraces us, that constitutes and undergirds our being.
God, good, just is, I realized. But that meant something different to me now than it had before. This time, knowing that the action, the being of good, was ongoing, changed the tense of my gratitude.
What I saw was that being grateful for the good "already received" didn't just mean giving thanks to God for the tangible evidences of His love that I'd already seen. It meant acknowledging that even in the face of difficult circumstances, good was still there - that it was all that was there. It meant taking gratitude to a more spiritual level, where I was seeing things from God's perspective - and finding reasons to give thanks in the present for the present. And for the future, too.
This kind of gratitude requires an active listening to God, especially because its recognition of blessings often flies in the face of what's going on around us.
Yet its power comes precisely from that willingness to listen and to elevate our thought to where we're knowing only what God knows.
Shortly after I discovered this new twist on gratitude, I learned just what a punch it packs. One morning, I was suddenly gripped with intense stomach pain. I hurt so much I almost felt I couldn't pray. And then I remembered: gratitude. So even though it was hard to believe that what I was saying was true, I began.
I can't remember many of the specifics of my gratitude, but what I do recall was the way it changed from an exercise in thanking God for what He was already and always doing - loving me, taking care of me - to a trust in that loving and caring, and finally, to an understanding that God's love and care were the only things I could possibly be feeling.
The change was dramatic.
Within 20 minutes, I was completely well. And I attribute that to gratitude, because it was only through that present tense thankfulness that I was able to witness firsthand the good that was really all that was going on.
This Thanksgiving, I've got a whole lot of blessings to remember. In fact, my list keeps growing - not because of what I've already seen, but because of what I'm seeing now. And what I'm seeing now is lots and lots - make that an infinitude - of good.