Gratitude has been widely discussed in recent years as an important element in mental health. Lately I've been thinking about the role gratitude plays in physical healing. And when I noticed some pain in my knees and hips, I decided to dig deeper into what gratitude really is.
I remembered reading about how Jesus thanked God before he raised Lazarus from the dead (see John 11:41). And he thanked God before he fed the multitude on the shores of the sea, a situation in which there had been only a minuscule amount of bread and fish to feed thousands (see John 6:11). As a student of the Bible, I'd been well aware of these statements of thanks, but had never really understood them.
I was clear about thanking God for His provisions after the fact. Thanking Him after I'd received whatever it was I needed. But I wanted to know why Jesus thanked God before these acts. I wanted to know how gratitude worked.
My study of Christian Science had shown me that God's laws are eternal and govern His creation. Therefore, I reasoned, there must be some scientific relationship between the gratitude Jesus expressed and his ability to heal. I turned to a question Mary Baker Eddy asked in the Christian Science textbook: "Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 3).
The order of Mrs. Eddy's reference to gratitude follows Jesus' expression of thanks. First, be grateful for the good already received, then receive more, she noted. The "more" in Jesus' case was restoration of life, and food for thousands.
How did this work?
I began to think about the idea that each of us, as reflections of God, is eternal. I saw that the concept of time becomes irrelevant when you consider eternity. So I felt grateful to see that. As I allowed myself to feel thankful, I observed that the act of gratitude kept my thought poised in what I was being thankful for – the spiritual fact that, as an eternal reflection, I wasn't subject to bad effects from aging, such as pain.
From that point, I thought more about reflection, more about myself as God's image, as the Bible puts it (see Gen. 1:26). An image, a reflection ... poised in eternity. That was quite a view. I felt uplifted – literally lifted out of the material view of myself – and at that point, simply seeing these truths was joyful and gratifying.
Gratitude was effortless and coincident with me realizing these ideas. And in realizing these ideas, letting my thought really embrace them, I had turned away from that other view – of me as aging and in pain. I wasn't concerned any longer with what had been going on with my joints.
Over the next few days and then weeks, every time I'd awaken in the night with pain, or feel pain after some strenuous exertion during the day, I'd go back to what I'd learned about myself as God's image. If we are actually outside of time, we are also outside of an aging process, and as an image, we are intimately and constantly connected to and reflecting God. There's no pain in that picture. And soon, though I can't put my finger on exactly when, I was not experiencing any pain at all – either during the night, or after walking or running any distance.
Being grateful focuses our thought on what's true about our relation to God. And when we do that, it's no effort to see more and more of it. And what we see and accept as true is then reflected in our experience.