Cultivating Gratitude

Rev. Forrest Parkinson, LMSW, LP

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; Psalm 28:7a

A new member of Alcoholics Anonymous was coming out of a difficult time. He had made a mess of his life in almost every area; his marriage and family relationships were strained to breaking, his job was on the line, he was facing health problems and his finances were in a bad way. He had a lot to be unhappy about. Everybody who was aware of his problems and cared for him dreaded that he would drink over his troubles as he had done for many years. Understandably, he was depressed. No surprises so far.

I was surprised by a palpable change in his mood and attitude; more hope, more energy, less shame and clearer vision for moving forward. What happened? More or less, he explained it like this: “I’m just starting the Twelve Steps, but I do believe God is saving me from myself. Like they say, God doesn’t save us to be miserable. My sponsor wants me to focus on the blessings in my life and he had me write a Gratitude List and pray with it when I go bed. I’ve been getting depressed with all these problems I’ve created for myself.  It was a hard list to write because part of me “wants” to focus on problems and it takes effort to be grateful instead. Making the Gratitude List is worth the effort. I still have all these problems to work out, but I keep the list folded in my pocket and I look at it when I get discouraged. Almost every night when I pray with it, I add something. I know it’s a little thing, but it has made a big difference.”

Our Lord warned us that “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I suggest that we often “treasure” our regrets, resentments and troubles with all the time and attention we give them. When we “treasure” our misfortunes, our hearts become steeped in negative thoughts and feelings. The Gratitude List will put our focus on the good in our lives. Our AA friend above was grateful for AA, for sobriety one day at a time, for a wife who is still with him, a job he could still go to, and having a family to whom he could make amends. How about you?

While a Gratitude List is hardly a treatment for a mental health issue, it is surely a help to anyone’s psychological and spiritual tone. Could you take an hour, with your focus off your problems and list your blessings? Could you keep your list with you and look at it when negativity begins to eat at your heart? In other words, in your life, could you cultivate gratitude? Our culture would have us attend to the trouble more than the joy.  So, where do you choose to steep your heart? As we approach our great national Thanksgiving Day, we will be wise to prepare our hearts with all the care that we prepare our banquets and travel. We will cultivate gratitude that we may give thanks with fulsome hearts.      …so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7b

The Rev. Forrest T. Parkinson, LMSW, LP, is pastor of Community Church of Little Neck in Little Neck, NY.  He is a Licensed Psychoanalyst, having obtained a certificate in Psychoanalysis from Blanton-Peale Institute in 2005. Rev. Parkinson also has an MSW from State University of NY, Stony Brook. He received his MDiv degree from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, NY and has full ministerial standing with the United Church of Christ. He also has an MS in Special Education & Emotional Disabilities from LIU at CW Post in Brookville, NY.   He has two years postgraduate training in Analytical Psychology at the CG Jung Institute and is also a certified Spiritual Director in the Ignatian tradition.  Pastor Parkinson counsels adults and couples.
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