Last Sunday, my granddaughter Hadley, 7, was baptized.
Over several weeks she’d talked to her parents and, separately, to me about her desire to do this. She said she believed in God and wanted to follow him. She said God was living in her heart.
My son John, Hadley’s dad, performed the baptism. He’s our congregation’s assistant pastor.
This was emotional for him. As he led the brief service, his voice seemed to catch.
But it was also emotional for me.
I’ve spent most of my life in the ministry, and to see my granddaughter declare her own faith, and to watch my only son hold Hadley’s little hand as she descended into the baptistery and then immerse her beneath the warm water, and to watch her come up from the water beaming — it was almost too much.
I thought I might burst with gratitude. Gratitude to God, mainly. But also to Hadley and John for their tender hearts.
And gratitude to life itself, which occasionally offers us unexpected glimpses of grace.
Of course, life also provides us plenty of glimpses of disappointment, loss, selfishness, dysfunction and sheer evil.
I suspect I’m biologically programmed to focus disproportionately on those less edifying glimpses. I’ve probably told you this before, but my first wife used to describe me as the kind of guy who could find the dark cloud in any silver lining.
Lately, I’ve been trying to override that predisposition.
I’m trying instead to practice mindful, intentional gratitude. Sometimes, as with my granddaughter’s baptism, gratitude is easy. But other times it’s a struggle.
I realize this might sound a bit trite. We’ve all heard it a thousand times. Count your blessings instead of sheep. See the glass as half full rather than half empty.
In intellectual circles, gratitude can be regarded as unsophisticated, and cynicism as cool.
Nonetheless, I believe this to be true: we’re happier and feel more fulfilled and better help those around us live productively when we choose to be grateful rather than resentful or self-pitying or nihilistic.
So in whatever situation I find myself, if I feel myself lapsing into negativity, I now make an effort to find something to give thanks for instead.
And there’s nearly always something to be thankful for.
When my shoulders, back and hips hurt, I remind myself to be grateful — to the Lord, or my genetic constitution, or simple good luck — that I can still walk under my own power and go where I please. That sure beats moaning and complaining. And when I don’t feel like walking at all, I try to be grateful for a soft sofa or that I have a reliable car to drive.
When attendance at the small church I lead takes a dip, I praise the Lord for those who did show up rather than fret about those who didn’t.
When the trees are icy and the sky is a dank gray, I give thanks I’ve got a well-insulated house with a dependable furnace, instead of griping because it’s not 60 degrees outside. I praise Mother Nature that spring is on its way.
When I start missing the loved ones I’ve lost — my first wife or my parents or all the others — I thank God I had those wonderful times we shared, and I thank him he’s put new people in my life — a second wife, five grandchildren, friends — who love me, too, and whom I love.
Some people suffer from real depression. I’ve been there, and I’ve written about it. This column isn’t meant for folks who are genuinely ill. If you’re depressed, you need medical care. No amount of trying on your own to change your attitude is likely to help.
No, what I’m talking about here are those of us who aren’t depressed, just surly. We’re ungrateful. We whine about the thousand-and-one things that go wrong daily for nearly everyone.
We do have a choice. It’s a choice that, if made rightly, can lead to a richer, fuller life.
Remember, if you’re valued by someone, a spouse or a parent or a child or a shaggy dog, you’re already blessed. And if you don’t have anyone on Earth who loves you right now, the Lord loves you enough to die for you — so you’re still blessed.
If you ate this morning and are likely going to eat again this evening, you’re blessed.
If you’re got a sourpuss for a boss, that means have a paying job. You’re blessed.
Every day, in nearly every situation, we can choose to be grateful.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.