This is a story about how gratitude changed my life.
I grew up with Catholic grandparents. My sister and I were both baptized in the Catholic Church but never raised religiously. We only went to church on Easter and Christmas. After my mom married my step-dad, a son of a Lutheran minister, we started getting our religion in much larger doses, in the form of questions like, “Did you go to church this week?” And comments like, “It would be so great if you came to church with us.”
Growing up and learning on my own afforded me the freedom to develop my personal opinions about how I wanted my life, religious, spiritual or otherwise, to go. I started to see and understand religion as a way for one group of people to be right about something, and another to be wrong. That didn’t make sense. So I opted out of religion and into spirituality.
If God is love, I thought, like I was taught by most of my religious friends, then why were topics like sinning, sexuality, women priests, and a whole lot of other issues guilt-laden things coming out in the same breath? Love is love. There’s no judgment in love. We are love. So, we also then, must be God. (I thank Wayne Dyer for standing up on stage one day and proclaiming this to a room of seekers).
So, fast-forward to this past year, the first time a friend of mine and I sat down at the dinner table together, I paused, fork half way to my mouth, while he folded his hands in prayer. Gratitude. Something else, like love that I did believe. So, I put my fork down, a little awkwardly at first and waited until he opened his eyes before we started eating.
My mom and step-dad had always said grace before we ate. I also remember my Italian grandparents saying their blessing, in Italian, before every meal. I’d connected their “grace” to them being right about their religion. That was a mistake.
It took me a year to begin to fold my hands with my friend before we ate together. Why so long? I’m not sure. I think I was embarrassed at first. The praying thing always reminded me a bit of my too religious family and friends who were always first to tell you why you needed to believe a certain way and why if you didn’t you were going to hell. I never subscribed to that kind of anti-love thinking.
But this past week I started folding my hands in gratitude.
A blessing of thanks for the amazing food and the fantastic company I keep these days. And that feels so good to me. If anything is right, it’s the expression of thanks and love for what we already have. I don’t need to pray to any God or higher power or believe any certain way to show and express gratitude. All I have to do is believe in that feeling, and how powerful it is.
I remember a moment a few years back, when I sat at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, having single-handedly prepared a full meal for my family. It was exciting to be at our new cabin in the woods, just the four of us, and intensely grateful for the abundance showing up in our lives and the time we had that night to celebrate. I sat down and offered an alternative to grace. I said, “Why don’t we go around the table and each say something we’re grateful for?”
Before I could finish the last words, my husband interrupted me, “No, we’re not going to do that!” I was so shocked and saddened I choked back my tears, excused myself from the table and went to bed. That was a time before I felt my worth, and had the courage I have today. I should have looked at him and said my own blessing anyway. I should have offered the opportunity to the kids too. But I did not take that opportunity to be brave and use my voice for something that matters so much.
It’s essentially this lack of gratitude that led me to ask for a divorce a few years later. This became a deal breaker for me. And now, that I have the awareness, the courage, and the choice, I will fold my hands with my new friend and we’ll celebrate the abundance coming into our lives at every meal.
Because gratitude matters… Because love matters… Because I am love.
I don’t like to write about topics like religion, or politics, or polarizing issues, and I haven’t felt brave enough to say what I stand for to field the comments I assume will come. I now realize that if I don’t, I’m doing myself and every other person who may not yet have their voice a huge disservice.
So, thank you for reading, whatever you believe, whatever religion, or not, you practice, thank you for opening your mind and making love and gratitude your default settings.
We’re changing the world by doing this.