The English words “gratitude” and “grace” share the same Latin word root, “gratus.” When we choose to be grateful, we become full of grace, I write in my book Wake Up to Wonder. That helps us discover the everyday miracles God has hidden in plain sight around us.
Recently I digitized some old film prints of family photos. Every photo I scanned reminded me of a story. Each story inspired gratitude as it revealed the wonder of God’s work in my life.
Grandma Lena’s effervescent smile made me smile as I looked a photo of her holding my childhood dog Mittens. When I was 7 years old, I moved to an apartment that didn’t allow pets. Grandma adopted Mittens so he could continue to be a part of my life. I enjoyed many simple yet profound moments of awe every time I visited Grandma’s house. Walking Mittens – a tiny Yorkshire terrier – during winter, I marveled at how he didn’t leave any footprints in the snow (he didn’t weigh enough to make a noticeable impact!). Singing with Grandma as Mittens howled along, I laughed so much that I had to stop singing. Petting Mittens on my lap in Grandma’s plant-filled sunroom, I listened to Grandma’s wonderful stories of the people she knew. Grandma’s network of relationships was large and diverse. She was known for her kindness. A memorial plaque at the popular railroad museum she founded describes her accurately as “a kind-hearted woman.”
Ultimately, the wonder of visiting Grandma’s house happened because God’s love flowed through Grandma to me. I knew about Grandma’s faith from when we occasionally prayed together. But mostly, it was the awe I experienced with Grandma which made me feel God’s love and appreciate it.
Grandma lived a grateful and graceful life despite facing significant challenges – including raising two young children after Grandpa’s early death, and successfully running the store and post office they had started together. Grandma saw tremendous change happen during her long lifetime (from 1902 to 2001). On every day God gave her, Grandma found something to be grateful for and celebrate. Her gratitude welcomed wonder into her life. That wonder spilled over into my life, and I’ll always be grateful for it.
Now I have a habit of starting every day with a prayer of gratitude. Soon after I wake up each morning, I pray a simple breath prayer: “Thank you God, for the gift of this day.” Beginning each day that way gives me a positive perspective going into the rest of the day.
People who practice gratitude report experiencing many benefits from giving thanks, including more joy, optimism and happiness (which all can lead to awe), according to well-being research.
No matter how challenging our circumstances are during this pandemic, we can always find reasons to be grateful. Wonder helps us find those reasons. Experiencing awe enlarges our perspective so we can notice and appreciate the blessings God pours into our lives – even in the toughest times. Here a few simple yet profound ways to give thanks in ways that lead to wonder:
* Thank workers who could use extra encouragement right now. Tell health care workers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, teachers, and others that you appreciate their work. Reflecting on the caring community that you’re a part of, and engaging with others in that community, can help you feel awe.
* Call to thank someone who has made a significant positive impact on your life. Who is a “Grandma” in your life? Contact him or her to express your gratitude. Your conversation can lead to both of you experiencing wonder together.
* Keep a gratitude journal. Start writing down brief, simple lists of what you’re grateful for each day, and why. As you read over the entries, your gratitude and awe can grow.
* Praise God daily. Psalm 22:3 says God inhabits the praise of people. When we praise God, we invite him to move closer to us, and we feel awe as a result. Praising God when we pray can usher wonder into our lives.