Imagine this: You've just gotten word that a close friend is in dire straits. Gratitude isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind, is it? Yet, it's interesting to consider what might happen if it were. What's the result when thanks that well up from deep in one's heart become the first response? According to the Bible, it's something marvelous. When gratitude leads, it opens the door to healing.
Case in point? When Jesus got the news that his good friend Lazarus had died. Standing at the door to the sepulchre, Jesus did something unusual. He thanked God. Then he called Lazarus's name. And Lazarus emerged - alive. (See John 11:1-46.)
Spiritual thinker and healer Mary Baker Eddy explained this death- defying phenomenon when she wrote, "Prayer cannot change the Science of being, but it tends to bring us into harmony with it" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 2). In Lazarus's case, the harmonizing effect of gratitude was that it brought the changelessness of divine Life - God - to light. No mere thank-you, Jesus' gratitude was a direct appeal to the reality that God knows and maintains - a reality of Life's allness and ever-presence. What followed was healing.
I'd heard this about gratitude - that it leads to healing. And the story of Lazarus is a compelling example. Until recently, though, I'd never experienced it for myself. And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I have to admit that I'd wondered more than once: Would gratitude work for me?
Then came the morning when I could barely drag myself out of bed. The day hadn't begun, and my head was already throbbing. The problem with these headaches, as I'd discovered, was that they seemed to render me incapable of thinking - or praying - productively. How I was going to pray - or function at work for that matter - was beyond my comprehension.
"Try gratitude," came the thought. Well, that's not quite the extent of the message. It was more like, "Try the ABCs of gratitude."
When I ran with some regularity in college, I had a routine that kept me focused on God - instead of on my feet pounding on the pavement. I'd proceed through the alphabet, thinking of a word that corresponded with each letter. More often than not, this became "the ABCs of gratitude."
I hadn't thought of those runs in years. And I wondered why the impulse to return to my "ABCs" practice was coming so strongly now. It seemed vaguely infantile - but more to the point, uninspired and rigid. Fine for runs, but hardly appropriate for the kind of prayer I was yearning for right now.
Nevertheless, I began with "A." I was grateful for God's All-in-allness, which left no room for pain. I thanked God for the beauty of the day, for the rising sun that reminded me of His nature as Soul. "C" was for the rescuing Christ, while "D" led me to my gratitude for the depths of God's love for me.
The further I progressed, the more quickly - and abundantly - my thank-you list flowed. The letters became a kind of road map for my gratitude, but the trip itself was full of surprises. In fact, what started out as a literal exercise in gratitude became a prayer that welled up from the very depths of me.
By the time I was done, I felt ready to leave for work, buoyed by thoughts of Life and Love and being made in God's likeness. Midway through my commute, I realized I was completely healed.
What I love about this experience is not that it gave me some formula for gratitude; I don't know if I'd ever turn to the ABCs again even if I were in the mood to make a gratitude list. But there was something symbolic in the fact that the alphabet - something so basic - was my guide. I think it points to this: that in any healing, gratitude is fundamental. Foundational. Basic. Building on a genuine love and appreciation for the ever-present goodness of God makes that goodness vibrantly apparent.
That's why gratitude works. Because it prevents a trip down the path of feeling that something has to change. Instead, it steers us down the road of understanding that what God, Love, is knowing and doing is the only reality. Hope and faith in that sublime fact shift and lift to understanding. And you know what? Healing really does follow.