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Connecting to God through Gratitude


By the Rev. Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger
February 6, 2019

In our work tackling budgetary concerns and discerning and articulating the mission of The United Methodist Church, the Connectional Table employs many theological values to guide its work. We publicize these values in various reports, but the nature of our work often denies us the opportunity to further explore or elaborate on what these values mean to us as followers of Christ. The Connectional Table will now explore our values, faith and relationships with God, the Church and the world around us through weekly devotionals. 

This week, our new assistant connectional ministries officer the Rev. Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger writes of how we can connect with God by seeking out opportunities for joy and gratitude. 

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 3:15 (NIV)

In 2018, Jen Kramer embarked on a year of love. She wasn’t seeking romance or even platonic connection. Jen wanted to experience more joy in her life. Every day of 2018 she took a moment to write a Facebook post as a love note to a different person. She wrote what that person meant to her and the world. The notes were written to family members and friends, but also to strangers she encountered that day. Jen wrote love notes to Norma, the custodian at her office building, and to V, the cashier at Dunkin Donuts. Jen did this every day of the year, and something changed. She told the Chicago Tribune,  “This was an experiment that absolutely altered the course of my life and the way I go through life and it cost me nothing… Where I went, love showed up. I took it with me everywhere.”

What Jen experienced is the power of gratitude, looking for love and the way spiritual practices can anchor your body and mind in positive feelings. Brother David Steindl-Rast–a monk, interfaith scholar and TED presenter–speaks about how gratitude makes us happy. Being alert to the many blessings in the world around us (especially those we did not earn or buy) can change our mental state. Our gratitude and acknowledgement of the blessings in our world allow us to store up positive emotional reserves. The more we take time to be grateful, the happier we become. These positive reserves can be used when life gets stressful or challenging. By taking the time to recognize and celebrate the love and positive actions around her, Jen noticed love, noticed blessings, noticed God; and grew happier. We, too, can engage in the spiritual discipline of gratitude to feel happier. In fact, it is a tool to overcome fatigue and discouragement on our faith journey.

In the final chapter of Colossians, Paul reminds the people to be devoted to prayer, to be attentive and to be thankful. He is also telling them to be attentive to the world so that they will notice God’s presence and God’s blessings given to them and stay rooted in their faith. When we are awake to all the blessings of God meditated in Christ, our natural response is to be thankful. We, too, are called to notice the blessings around us and to engage in gratitude often. When we are attentive, we will notice God’s presence and love all around, as Jen did, and our lives will be enriched.

Take a moment today to be grateful. Close your eyes and think about something you are thankful for. Visualize this blessing–this person, object or situation. Take a deep breath and feel the thanksgiving and gratitude fill your body. Release the breath and say thank you to God.