31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 18, 2015
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Over 300 years ago, author William Penn said, “The secret to happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.”
I’m not sure how much that is a secret versus a challenge. We are much better at adding up our troubles than counting our blessings. Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and founder of Positive Psychology, says that research shows that people spend more time thinking about how they can correct something that has gone wrong or is about to go wrong than they do basking in what has gone right.
Dr. Seligman says this inclination to focus on negatives and worries might have an evolutionary reason however it also “minimizes life satisfaction and maximizes anxiety and depression.”*
And that is not just a theory. There are countless research studies to back this up. Dr. Robert Emmons and his colleagues at the University of California at Davis “divided participants into three groups, each of which made weekly entries in a journal. One group wrote five things they were grateful for. Another group described five daily hassles and a control group listed five events that had affected them in some way. Those in the gratitude group felt better about their lives overall, were more optimistic about the future, and reported fewer health problems than the other participants.”#
Counting our blessings does not just affect our emotional wellbeing either. Being grateful also makes us physically healthier. At the University of Connecticut, researchers found that cardiac patients who had had a heart attack and were at risk for heart failure were less likely to have a second heart attack if they practiced gratitude. Being grateful was associated with “better mood, higher quality sleep,… and less inflammation.” &
The same finding was also true for people suffering with fibromyalgia. And gratitude has even been found to speed up organ recipients’ healing time.^
Today, we begin our Season of Generosity. Today, we begin a five-week period in which we focus on and celebrate God’s blessings, a time when we intentionally give thanks for God’s grace and abundance.
To help nurture our habit of gratitude, today, as you leave worship, you will receive a Jar of Gratitude with blank slips of paper in it. The Stewardship committee invites you to write down a blessing every day and place it in your Jar of Gratitude, and then bring your blessings to worship each Sunday so we can celebrate together God’s blessings in our lives.
Among our many blessings are the ministry we do together as the First Congregational Church and as the United Church of Christ, the lives we touch, the love we share. Today and over the next four Sundays, we will hear from different members of our community about why they are grateful for the ministry of FCC and why they financially support our ministry.
Dr. Stephen Post wrote, “ Celebration is, quite simply, the way we express gratitude.” And so it is fitting to end our Season of Generosity with a celebratory worship service on November 15th followed by the Harvest Brunch.
There are many reasons to practice the habit of gratitude and generosity. It does lead to happiness as William Penn once wrote. It also leads to better health, psychologically and physically.
That’s not the only reason why we, as Christians, praise and thank God though. We take the time in worship and the time each day to thank God for our blessings because gratitude and generosity are an essential part of our relationship with God.
Deuteronomy says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
When we are in love, we tend to see our loved one, and the whole world for that matter, through rose-colored glasses. When we love God with our whole selves, we see the world through Jars of Gratitude. Everywhere we look, we see blessings: the beautiful blue sky, the magnificent fall leaves, small gestures of kindness. We are thankful to be able to take a deep breath, stand upright. We see lunch with friends, laughter shared with children, as such a gift. We are amazed to live in a country where we can worship God in freedom, where every child has access to education, and where we play a role in our nation’s governance.
When we love God with everything we have, when we are absolutely filled up with God’s love, we notice God’s blessings everywhere. We have hope in the midst of life’s challenges. We have abundance in the midst of scarcity. We have security in an uncertain world.
Naomi was a woman who knew scarcity, insecurity, and loss. A famine had forced her family to move from their home to a foreign country, with foreign ways and foreign gods. And while they were living there, her husband died. To lose your partner in life is a terrible thing. Widows and widowers I know speak of the gaping hole in their hearts, the crushing sorrow of their days.
I don’t know how Naomi felt about her husband. I don’t know if he was her soul mate, her partner, her true love, but I do know he was her security. He was her financial support and her connection to the community.
And then tragedy struck again, and both of her sons died. And she was alone. A widowed woman, with no clan and no income, living in a foreign country with foreign ways and foreign gods. Naomi was a woman who knew scarcity, insecurity, and loss, a woman who believed that the hand of God had turned against her (Ruth 1:13). Yet, here was Ruth, here was her daughter-in-law, a foreigner, speaking words of love and dedication, promising to always be with her, reminding Naomi of God’s blessings.
As Dr. Seligman says, we seem to be evolutionarily wired to focus on the negatives, to focus on what we don’t have.
Even when we are walking through the darkest valleys, though, even when we think the hand of God has turned against us and our future is filled with loss and hardship, even in those moments, God’s love is always there. God’s grace is always there. God’s blessings are always there.
And it is this awareness, this soul deep knowledge that God always loves us, that God is blessing us in small and large ways every day, that binds us together as followers of Jesus Christ. This is who we are – people of faith, hope, and promise, people who live in the abundance of God’s love, people who see the world through Jars of Gratitude and who respond generously to God’s generosity.
As we enter this Season of Generosity, I invite you to take seriously, very seriously, the practice of writing down at least one blessing each day and adding it to your Jar of Gratitude, adding it to our Jar of Gratitude.
Do it because it will make you a happier person. Do it because you will be a healthier person. Do it because it is who we are as children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
Great is they faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided – great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
^ Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Post & Neimark, pg 30