November 13, 2022 ~ 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Beckie Sweet
At the beginning of the COVID Pandemic, when seeking out resources to share to buoy folks’ mental health, I stumbled upon an online periodical called “Greater Good Magazine,” offering science-based insights for a meaningful life. This week, I happened across an article by Joshua Brown and Joel Wong titled, “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” The authors begin:
With the rise of managed health care, which emphasizes cost-efficiency and brevity, mental health professionals have had to confront this burning question: How can they help clients derive the greatest possible benefit from treatment in the shortest amount of time?
Recent evidence suggests that a promising approach is to complement psychological counseling with additional activities that are not too taxing for clients but yield high results. In our own research, we have zeroed in on one such activity: the practice of gratitude. Indeed, many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.
Immediately upon reading these opening paragraphs of the article, the old Sunday School hymn started stirring in my mind:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
The article goes on to describe the basis for a scientific study analyzing the short-term and long-term impact on the human brain when one practices activities expressing gratitude. Those who had been diagnosed with clinical depression and/or anxiety disorder, who wrote three quick notes of thanks each day for four weeks, or who wrote in a gratitude journal twice a day for four weeks, found a minimum of 12 weeks of improved mental health. Their conclusion: practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries far greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.
The remainder of their article describes the following findings:
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.
- Gratitude as an attitude helps, even if you don’t share it.
- Gratitude’s benefits increase over time, providing long-lasting effects on the brain.
The concluding paragraph in the article states: Regardless of whether you’re facing serious psychological challenges, if you have never written a gratitude letter before, we encourage you to try it. Much of our time and energy is spent pursuing things we currently don’t have. Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things we do.
Our scripture text for today is one that is often used on Thanksgiving Day, because it conveys the prophet’s witness and reasons for giving thanks to God for mercy and salvation. This is also a poignant reminder that we, too, have so many reasons to give God thanks for blessings too numerable to count. The prophet reminds us that God remembers all of our experiences, both negative and positive. And God sets aside anger and disappointment, offering mercy and salvation for both the individual and each community. Thus, we are invited to sing for joy to the Holy One.
Today’s anthem, “The First Song of Isaiah,” is a song that sticks with us, and inspires us as we consider this scriptural teaser for the weeks of Thanksgiving and the upcoming season of JOY. That is the season that beckons us to prepare our hearts to receive the promised Messiah. Isaiah’s song comes to our lips now in a new way because “that day” has already dawned for us in Jesus. Yet our song arises out of a similar place of remembrance and hope. Our present age continues to be a churning of division, strife, crime and heartache: of tragedy and blessedness. That blessedness comes in the opportunities to make a positive difference with the love of Christ in a broken world. That blessedness comes in the ability to model an open welcome for all persons to participate in the ministries of St. Paul’s Church, Christ’s Church. That blessedness is counted as we value one or many family members, friends, co-workers, community members who love us, and seek only the best for us. Our blessedness comes when we realize that our God abides with us always, desires for us to experience abundant life as we sing of the joy of our salvation!
What song shall we sing? That song may be a bit different for each of us. But I pray that the chorus will resonate with Isaiah’s reminder: “Surely it is God who saves me! I will trust in God and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense. And [this God, Merciful God, Messiah God] will be my Savior!” THANKS be to GOD!