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Pastor column: Gratitude changed my life

By Adam W. Westrich, pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Ellsworth

Gratitude: Seriously, it changed my life!

I have to confess: there was a time when I was a bit of a curmudgeon. The graduate school education I had been pursuing at that time — a thing called seminary (that's the grad school many pastors have to attend before being allowed to become one) — did not yield the answers to my life's questions I had hoped. In fact, it actually brought to me more questions about life and faith than answers — and I am usually not short of questions. The things I thought I could figure out became shrouded in mystery instead of clarity.

The job I had just been hired to take on turned out to be exceedingly less meaningful and fulfilling than I had anticipated it would be. I knew it wasn't going to be a job I had for more than two years (which I kept for five), but I thought that it would at least be temporarily fulfilling. And as it turned out, it was not.

To add to my list of disappointments, I did not know what to do next, what to pursue, or where to even begin. I was having, what I recently discovered is called, my second millennial quarter life crisis — my first having taken place my freshman year of college.

One day I was in deep prayer, really feeling sorry for myself. I mean I was ANGRY, and I was really letting God have it — in a totally Midwestern passive aggressive way, of course.

My head was down, I was murmuring to myself intensely in prayer, while I walked from my place of employment to my apartment, both residing on the seminary campus. When suddenly and totally unexpectedly, I experienced this intensified awareness of the Holy Spirit, who eloquently, lovingly, and carefully confronted me with these words, "You need to develop an attitude of gratitude."

From that moment on, begrudgingly, and still feeling quite sorry for myself, I began to slowly develop an attitude of gratitude.

At first, I found gratitude in the little things — I mean really little things. The color of blades of grass, the texture of bark on trees, the food I had that day, the fact that I had a warm place to sleep, and that I could pay most of my bills, etc. Then, it began to morph into gratitude for the bigger things in life, such as a friendship, my parents and family, even that job that was totally unfulfilling. Over time, I found myself almost accidentally looking for those things, small and large and everything in between, that brought me gratitude.

And you know what? It changed my life! Before developing an attitude of gratitude I felt emotionally miserable and a little depressed. Now, today, I can say confidently that the singular emotion I feel more than any other is that of gratitude. And I have to confess: That feels really good.

Did you know that our ancient scriptures have some things to say about gratitude? Allow me to share just three of them, of which there are many, many more.

• 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Here we see that gratitude is God's will for us.

• Philippians 4:4-7: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Here we hear that the attitude of gratitude, infused with prayer, transforms us to being enabled to experience God's peace, which will then protect our hearts and minds.

• Psalm 100, also invites us to offer unending praise to God for all things (running out of space, please look it up).

Finally, in recent years there has been a lot of scientific research connecting gratitude to wellbeing at all levels of health. Just Google the words "gratitude and wellbeing" and you will find several articles, one of which was published by the Harvard Medical School titled, :In Praise of Gratitude,: and another by a peer reviewed journal titled, :Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,: found in Psychiatry MMC.

Anyway, my point is there is increasing research showing the actual, measured benefits — physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational — of living a life full of appreciation and gratitude.

Therefore, as you find yourself sitting down at your Thanksgiving table in a couple of weeks, take a few minutes with your family to go around the table first sharing what each person is grateful for in general and then go around again, this time, sharing what each person is grateful for regarding each of the people sitting around that table.

Or, take some time in the next month to write a letter to someone sharing with them why you are grateful to them for who they are and why — then, deliver it to them. If you are religious/spiritual, take some time each day to offer gratitude to God, or your higher power, for at least one thing you appreciate in your life. You could even start a gratitude journal. Who knows? Perhaps, over time your life could be changed, too!

May God bless you with a deep and renewed appreciation for life, as you offer your gratitude and praise this Thanksgiving and Christmas season! And remember ... God is good! So, go share some of that goodness with someone else. Amen!