Editor's note:

I’m a lit­tle embar­rassed to present this arti­cle, with it being about me and all. But it’s a good arti­cle, kind of sweet and has a cool pic­ture from 1977.

I’ve come to believe that few things are more pow­er­ful for the good of the soul and soci­ety at large than grat­i­tude. I was recent­ly pray­ing about a sit­u­a­tion that I want­ed changed, and as I began my earnest peti­tion I felt prompt­ed to first list out all the things I was grate­ful for about the sit­u­a­tion. I didn’t much like this idea and at first found it extreme­ly dif­fi­cult, but after some time I was able to dis­cov­er a num­ber of won­der­ful things that were direct­ly a result of the sit­u­a­tion. By the time I had fin­ished my list, my per­spec­tive had shift­ed so much that I no longer nec­es­sar­i­ly want­ed the sit­u­a­tion to change as so much good was com­ing from it. Grat­i­tude brought me to the abil­i­ty to col­lapse into God’s prov­i­dence, and so with a play­ful smile I relin­quished — Oh you just do what you want with this sit­u­a­tion and I’ll say thank you.”

—Nathan Foster
Renovaré Director of Community Life

Richard and Nathan Foster, circa 1977My three-year-old son jumped into my arms and smoth­ered me with kiss­es say­ing, Thank you, Dad­dy; thank you, Dad­dy” over and over. I had done noth­ing more than repair his tri­cy­cle and yet I was being inun­dat­ed with grat­i­tude. Filled with a spe­cial warmth, I sat in the grass and watched Nathan ride his tri­cy­cle up and down the sidewalk.

I pon­dered the words of King Lear: How sharp­er than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thank­less child. 

I thought about the spir­it of ingrat­i­tude that has reached epi­dem­ic pro­por­tions in our day. We are incred­i­bly blessed, and yet we find it so hard to be gen­uine­ly thank­ful. Why is this?” I wondered. 

Imme­di­ate­ly I real­ized that we live in a cul­ture in which when the pri­or­i­ties of life are set, grat­i­tude seems to be squeezed out. We have lost the abil­i­ty to receive life as a gift,” I thought to myself. I remem­bered the farmer who was enter­tain­ing an urban rel­a­tive. Before the meal, the farmer paused to thank God for the food that had been so gra­cious­ly pro­vid­ed. The vis­i­tor jeered, That is very old-fash­ioned; nobody who has any edu­ca­tion prays at the table any­more.” The farmer admit­ted that the prac­tice was not very com­mon, for even in his house­hold there were some who did not do it. Pleased, the rel­a­tive remarked, So enlight­en­ment is reach­ing the farm too. Who are these sen­si­ble ones?” The farmer answered, They are my pigs.” Per­haps we are devel­op­ing an entire cul­ture of pigs,” I mused. 

Nathan rode by, wav­ing and ring­ing his lit­tle bell. I waved in return. I pon­dered how chil­dren seem to live so free of the need to con­trol or manip­u­late oth­ers. This must be what releas­es them to spon­ta­neous­ly give thanks,” I thought. We have a whole cul­tur­al mind set that is in oppo­si­tion to the spir­it of grat­i­tude. Our long­ing for posi­tion, pow­er, and pres­tige all mit­i­gate against thanks­giv­ing. If we are gen­uine­ly grate­ful to some­one, we place our­selves in their debt and to be indebt­ed to them under­cuts the abil­i­ty to con­trol them.” Once again the words of Shake­speare burst upon my mind: Blow, blow, thou win­ter wind. Thou art not so unkind As man’s ingratitude. 

It doesn’t need to be that way!” I said, almost out loud, Sim­ple words of grat­i­tude can be so heal­ing. Lit­tle deeds of appre­ci­a­tion mean so much.” I began to con­sid­er dozens of good things that had come my way that day — the encour­ag­ing words of friends, the col­ors all around me, the warm smile of my wife. I sat in the grass filled with a new sense of thanksgiving. 

My train of thought was bro­ken by Nathan’s cries. He came run­ning up to me com­plete with skinned knee and a flood of tears. I kissed the knee, then held him tight. I’m very thank­ful for you,” I whispered. 

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Evan­gel­i­cal Friend, Novem­ber 1977.

Originally published October 1977

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