Letter Writing as a Gratitude Practice
November 5, 2021
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
How did we arrive at November so quickly? My view looking back on the past year – really, the past two years – feels like a bit of a blur in many ways. In conversation with others, I hear a similar sentiment expressed. So much change has happened. So many new decisions and considerations have arisen. Long-established habits and routines have been altered, and it feels unsettling. There’s been a lot to take in and to wonder about. Sometimes it really almost feels like too much. Often, I just don’t know what to do with it.
And in the midst of all that has been and that remains challenging, perplexing and unknown, there are daily reminders of grace in my life. Maybe it’s a realization of something learned as a result of my experiences. Maybe it’s an acknowledgement of growth that, even if it has felt painful, it has brought greater depth, empathy, compassion to my way of seeing and being. Sometimes it’s simply a relief that something could be shed that I didn’t know I could, or wasn’t able to, let go of before. I have been changed in ways I can see more clearly as I look back.
So often, those grace-filled invitations to change have come for me through other people. The ones I live with, work with, share friendship with, as well as those I encounter in everyday interactions become signs of God’s grace and love in the flesh as I continue to learn and grow.
In November we are called to intentional gratitude and acknowledgement of what is gift and blessing with a day set aside for that very purpose. In this month, I’m thinking about particular ways I’m feeling called to practice gratitude in my life. This Thanksgiving, perhaps we are able to anticipate gathering with family and friends in ways we haven’t for awhile. Maybe we are planning to travel, or take some time to just slow down and savor what we have. How will gratitude be a part of all that in real and tangible ways for us?
A Google search on the definition of gratitude says this: “ The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Focusing on what is good in our lives, pausing to notice the things we often take for granted, and taking time to acknowledge them, can be done in many ways, and the definition lays out some steps in the process.
First is the noticing. I need eyes and a heart that is open to seeing, even expecting, that there is grace all around me. Once I notice something or someone as a grace or gift, I can acknowledge it and name it for what it is. It didn’t have to be, but it is! Then, I can share appreciation.
I have a dear friend who is especially good at being an encourager and sharing words of appreciation. He writes letters and notes to others and sends them in the mail. And, for me. it’s just the best, most uplifting thing to receive a personal note from someone in the mail. I never see him without hearing a word of appreciation. In recent years, he has been bringing small groups of people together around music and refreshments and stories. He listens to the stories of others and is genuinely curious about them. Even when life brings hard things his way, he seems to look for what can inspire gratitude and hope. I know that’s not always easy for him, but as one who lives in the hope of Christ, he finds a way to get there.
Author and American spiritual teacher Ram Dass’s quote “We are all just walking each other home” is one I reflect on as I consider my life journey and the gift and grace I’ve experienced through those who accompany me. Through the years, I become more and more aware of how much I have been shaped by life lived with others, and how richly blessed I am as a result.
As I think about how I want to be in the world and how I am called to walk alongside others, I’m adopting my friend’s practice of gratitude of letter-writing in this season. Notes need not be long or fancy, but I intend to be intentional in acknowledging gratitude for the particular grace of others who are and have been walking with me in my life. As I think about my encouraging friend and his letters, I think these are helpful suggestions for this practice of gratitude shared through letter/note-writing.
- Focus on the recipient. What have they done, said, meant to you?
- Be specific in naming it.
- How did it made you feel, then and now?
- End with gratitude for who they are.
As Paul reminds us in the Colossians verses, we are the Body of Christ, called to walk this journey of life together. Our walk becomes much more beautiful and joy-filled when we encourage one another along the way. Even the difficult stretches are made more bearable when we can reach out and connect with those who walk with us, knowing that we are all held in the ever-present Love and Grace of the God who made each of us good and calls us Beloved.
Diane Harpster serves as the Administrative Assistant to the Bishop for the Nebraska Synod. She is a life-long Nebraskan, certified spiritual director, chocolate lover and HGTV-watcher, and enjoys the opportunity to meet and serve the people and congregations throughout the Nebraska Synod.