Gratitude Lesson 4: Gratitude is both an emotion and an action
On Saturday May 24, 1738, in an evening prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed.” Had this experience of grace only remained a personal emotional experience, we might never have known about it, Methodism might never have been formed, slavery in England might not have been abolished in that century, many poor English children might not have educated and I would not be writing to you 282 years later! However, Wesley took that emotional experience of grace and turned it into actions. Gratitude is like that. It is both an emotion and an action- just like love and forgiveness. This emotion is a choice we make. The decision to be grateful actually builds on itself, like the proverbial snowball. Practicing gratefulness opens us to a larger spirit of gratitude. We can open ourselves up to gratitude, according to earlier writers, by focusing on “tailwinds”- those events which have helped us along in life- as opposed to focusing on our obstacles or “tail winds.” But we can also enlarge our experience of gratitude through action as well. Expressing thanks in notes to people, keeping gratitude journals, and giving thanks to God in prayer are all helpful action. Wesley did these.
But Wesley took action a step further. He used the very experiences and things for which he was grateful to build a better world for others; most notably the poor, the slaves, the uneducated, the imprisoned, and the spiritually lost. Gratitude was to him an action expressed in the helping of others. It was not just saying to himself: “I am thankful.” Gratitude is a circle of sorts. We receive gifts, we thankfully pass them on, we receive more gifts and pass them on. In Acts 20:35, Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive.” Yet Paul asked the Corinthians (I COR 4:7), “What do you have that you did not first receive?” Both are necessary. Life at its best is a never ending circle of giving and receiving, receiving and giving. When you give to thank God and help others you are part of this great “circle of life.” May that circle be unbroken!