Author: Tom Stiers

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Colossians 3:16 NIV

This year I have been challenged by my oldest daughter to begin writing down my memories. Each week she sends me a question for reflection. For example, what are some of your early memories of growing up on a farm? What was the best advice your mother ever gave you? How did you get your first job?

As I write my responses, I realize how easy it has been for me to take a lot of my life for granted. I have never been big on nostalgia. But as I look back, I realize how much of my early life formed me as the person I am: the value of family, hard work, being truthful, and the importance of religious faith, to name a few. I knew these were all important to me, but it did not occur to me that a spirit of gratitude could make a difference. On restless nights at 2:00 a.m. I do look back and realize how much I have to be grateful for. But I want to go deeper. Would practicing gratitude as a discipline be helpful? 

This month we are going back to Indiana for our family reunion. Many of you have attended family reunions this summer. Not feeling I needed to go for many years, last year we traveled back for the reunion. My family gathered in the local firehouse. There was great food and lots of faces I did not recognize. I sat and visited with them, learned a lot about them, and really enjoyed myself. We played a game like family bingo with the cards being pictures of the family members, young and old, and it was really fun for all.

This year I am grateful to have the chance to go back again. We always remember those who have died in the last year, and those who have been born. There was a family wedding recently in Uganda attended by many who will be present to tell the story. One of our members has transitioned from a woman to a man. Another cousin has just returned from an in-depth visit to India. A somewhat psychic niece has given me new insights with her many gifts. I look forward to many more chances to connect. Since living in Colorado, I bring new attitudes and experiences to the mix as well, I hope.

In searching for a book that might help me dig deeper, I discovered that Diane Butler Bass, one of our former MacKenzie lecturers, had written a book entitled Gratitude. She had been searching for deeper insights into relationships.

“Many feel grateful, but they are equally aware of the difficulty in expressing thanks to family, friends, and strangers.” Diane shares: “On a personal level, as I admit from my own personal experience, gratitude can be challenging.” A key sentence from the book: “Gratitude is about “me,” but it is also about “we”.

“What might it mean to live together as a thankful society?” asks Diane. Lately I have come to a new insight into community and into the differences within every family. Yes, our politics are different. Since my family lives in Indiana many are “Pence people.” We can eat and joke and look back at our common experiences and family heritage. But now I see this in a different way. Our world view, politics, and activities may be different, but once we have placed judgments aside, we can focus on gratitude that we have these long-standing connections and commonalities.

When I turned to Colossians 3:16, I began meditating on the phrase “singing to God with gratitude in your heart.” I have never been a singer but my wife sings a lot around the house. It brings joy to our home and makes me smile. Are there songs or hymns or psalms that remind you to be grateful? What do you appreciate about your family, and what is challenging? I’m trying to remember to always add a prayer of gratitude for all of my blessings as an “amen” to any prayer.

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