Gratitude

Most discussions of gratitude focus on what we are grateful for, rather than to whom we express gratitude. How significant is our acknowledgment of the source of our blessings?

Gratitude is considered a universal virtue. It is very effective in counteracting human tendencies toward pride, envy or coveting what others have, to feeling sorry for ourselves when bad things happen or becoming bitter when things are not fair. If we give it some time and thought, we could all come up with lists of things that we are grateful for. But how much do we think about to whom our feelings and expressions of gratitude are directed?

Grateful To –

I frequently hear and say myself “thank you” as I go about my daily activities. Sometimes these expressions seem automatic and without much thought. I do think most of us genuinely appreciate the services provided to us and thoughtful gestures of kindness from others. We are grateful to individuals as well as to groups of people, such as those who serve in our communities and the military.

We are generally grateful to the significant people in our lives, for their love and support as well as for specific things they do for us. I also hear expressions of gratitude toward those who are no longer living – the founding fathers of our country who established the freedoms we enjoy, or our own ancestors whose choices and sacrifices contributed to the circumstances of our lives.

Although I am grateful to all of these people, as a religious person, I understand the real source of all blessings – the power that created all that is beautiful, useful and good in our world including my own amazing physical body, and who placed those good people in my life.

One day, after hearing an expression of gratitude from someone who is not particularly religious, I started wondering about whether there is something different about gratitude without an acknowledgment that there is a divine source of all that we are grateful for, whatever one might call that source. We can be glad we are healthy or appreciate things we have acquired, but is this the same as gratitude for blessings that we have received? Surely there are things to be grateful for that we cannot give credit to people for. To whom do atheists and agnostics direct their gratitude for this earth, it’s beauties and resources?

A Divine Source of Blessings

Without recognition of a higher divine source of grace, is gratitude simply appreciating chance good fortune or luck? But what is the source of good luck, fate, Karma, the stars aligning? Do people think it is purely random? Is there some power randomly dispensing good things? Is it really random, if there is an intelligent power involved? If there is a power, doesn’t it make sense that such “blessings” would be given intentionally and wisely?

I see some dangers in the failure to recognize God as the source of blessings. One could easily become prideful thinking their success was solely a result of their own abilities or efforts, their circumstances because of their own cleverness or simply because they are somehow superior to others – those natural tendencies that I mentioned that gratitude can counteract. If gratitude is not directed toward God, pride, envy, coveting and self-pity can easily continue. If people are the only source of things to be grateful for, the lack of what we feel we should have could lead us toward blaming, resenting and even hating others whom we perceive to be withholding from us.

So I am left to wonder about the sources to which atheists and agnostics direct their gratitude. I wonder if at some level they feel that there is some higher power or source of grace but they stubbornly refuse to recognize it for what it is? Or do they truly think that people, including themselves, are responsible for all that they feel grateful for?

I know “from whom all blessings flow” and I am grateful to my Heavenly Father for all of those blessings and also for the understanding that He is that source.

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