True gratitude is a grace, or gift, from God. It proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. We do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, or because God commands it but because it flows naturally from a profound experience of gratitude. The “command” of Scripture to give thanks is not a moral cliché but a truth and a description of what flows from a transformed heart.
We should seek from God the powerful transformation of our intellect and our heart so that we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that is everything we have. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything—literally everything—is a gift from Him. Consider the following reflection from St. Gregory Nazianzen:
Recognize to whom you owe the fact that you exist, that you breathe, that you understand, that you are wise, and, above all, that you know God and hope for the kingdom of heaven and the vision of glory, now darkly as in a mirror but then with greater fullness and purity. You have been made a son of God, coheir with Christ. Where did you get all this, and from whom?
Let me turn to what is of less importance: the visible world around us. What benefactor has enabled you to look out upon the beauty of the sky, the sun in its course, the circle of the moon, the countless number of stars, with the harmony and order that are theirs, like the music of a harp? Who has blessed you with rain, with the art of husbandry, with different kinds of food, with the arts, with houses, with laws, with states, with a life of humanity and culture, with friendship and the easy familiarity of kinship?
Who has given you dominion over animals, those that are tame and those that provide you with food? Who has made you lord and master of everything on earth? In short, who has endowed you with all that makes man superior to all other living creatures?
Is it not God who asks you now in your turn to show yourself generous above all other creatures and for the sake of all other creatures? (From a sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, bishop. Oratio 14, De Pauperum amore, 23-25: PG 35, 887-890.)
Yes, we have so much for which we should be grateful! God holds together every fiber of our being: every cell and every part of every cell, every molecule and every part of every molecule, every atom and every part of every atom. He facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, every movement of our body, the functioning of every organ. God sustains every intricate detail of the world in which we live: the ideal orbit of our planet such that we neither boil nor freeze; the magnetic shield that protects Earth from harmful solar radiation; every intricate process of our planet, solar system, galaxy, and universe. All of this, including us, is sustained by God and provided for by Him. The depth, height, length, and width of what God does is simply astonishing—and He does it all free of charge. Pondering such goodness and providence helps us to be more grateful. Yes, all is gift.
There are some gifts of God that don’t seem like gifts at all: losses, tragedies, and natural disasters. In such moments it is easy to feel that He has forsaken us; gratitude is probably the last thing on our mind. Even here, Scripture bids us to look more closely: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good. He is paving a path unto glory, even if through the cross. Jesus has said to us, But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines and make a way out of no way. Yes, allis gift!
It is hard to overestimate the role that gratitude plays in good mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Grateful people are different: more joyful, generous, kind, patient, serene, and confident. All of this comes from the fact that gratitude makes present to us the provident goodness of God. Acknowledging how good God has been to us helps us to become more trusting and less anxious. Because of this we have the confidence to be more generous; there is no need to hoard things because we know that God will take care of us. Yes, through gratitude we are freed from many anxious cares and given a serene and stable joy; we are equipped to be so much more patient and generous.
Ultimately, gratitude is a gift to be received from God. We ought to ask for it humbly. We can dispose ourselves to it by reflecting on things such as those discussed above, but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite, and transformed heart. True gratitude is a grace, a gift, that comes from a heart deeply moved, astonished, and aware of the fact that God is so very good. Allis gift!