gratitude heals

gratitude heals beach

* i wrote this post in november 2009 for the refuge blog.  last night at our house of refuge, my friend shared how gratitude helps her connect with God.  it made me think of this blog post & how true it is–gratitude does heal. right now, i am in a terribly difficult season physically & emotionally (chronic pain wears you down); i can easily dwell on all the things that “aren’t” and slide down the slippery slope into despair.  last night before i went to bed i tried to remember all the things that “are.”  i slept better (well, flexeril helps, too).

* * * * *

november 2009:  for the past few saturdays we have been focusing on the word “gratitude”.  for some, i have heard that it stirs up bad feelings–“here we go with the guilt–yeah, no doubt i’m probably not thankful enough.” for others, it is a reminder of how easy it is to forget how much we have to be grateful for–that life, circumstances, and all kinds of other things can block us from noticing what is good, what we do have to be thankful for despite what’s hard.

personally, i like the focus on gratitude.  i am not ashamed to say that i like the good ol’ cheesy alcoholics anonymous saying to cultivate “an attitude of gratitude.” i think there’s no downside to this principle.  but i also fully recognize that it’s not always easy to do.  let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t feel it.  we can’t see what is, we can only see what isn’t.  we can’t muster up a feeling that isn’t there.

still, regardless of the obstacles to gratitude, i think it does something powerful inside of us.  gratitude heals.

karl facilitated a couple of saturdays ago & focused on this passage in the gospel of luke 17:11-19:

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria.  As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance,  crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.  One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

what he shared really struck me.  first of all, only one out of ten thanked Jesus for their immediate and powerful healing.  one out of ten. i think that’s telling.  i have no idea what was going through the other leper’s minds, but i find it interesting that the one that went back to offer thanks was the “foreigner”, the “outcast”, the “less-than.”  hmmm.  something to ponder.  i wonder if the others felt entitled to the healing?  or maybe they just got busy and went home and meant to say thanks but forgot?  i have no idea, but i do love that this one leper returned and offered his gratitude.

we will never know the ins and outs of what happened in that moment or what part of the leper’s heart Jesus saw, but karl pointed out an important thought:  maybe, what Jesus meant when he said “your faith has healed you” is “your gratitude has healed you.” he was already healed when he went to Jesus, cleansed of the ravages of leprosy.  but maybe, just maybe, the gratitude he held in his heart provided some healing power, too.

to me, the word “healing” can be interchanged with “transformation” or “change” or “shifts in our hearts.”  i think when we are thankful, when we give thanks–either out loud or in the quiet places of our hearts–that something changes, transforms, shifts inside of us.  it somehow heals.

it is so easy in the midst of dark, dark places to focus on what isn’t instead of what is. of all the things we don’t have instead of the things that we do. of all the things we wish were different.  i am also keenly aware of people in the midst of horrible, ugly, seemingly unredeemable situations who somehow can find light & be thankful for it.  i do think things are better for them.

i believe the scriptures help remind us of God’s heart for us, of a better way than we would conjure up on our own.  i am not so sure that God needs our thanks.  yeah, i am sure he appreciates it but really he’s probably okay without our strokes.  i really think God calls us to thankfulness because somehow he knows it will change us, transform us, heal us.

and that’s God’s heart for us–healing, transformation, change, hope.

yeah, gratitude heals.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Some great insights Kathy! Gratitude and thankfulness do heal.

    Even if you don’t have heart problems or high blood pressure, there are a couple of books written by doctors that talk about this. First, “The Heart Speaks” by Mimi Guarneri, cardiologist (from San Diego, of course). In my opinion, everyone would benefit by reading this book once a year.

    Second, “The HeartMath Approach to Managing Hypertension” by Bruce Wilson, MD & Doc Childare. Keys are: 1) Heart Focus, 2) Heart Breathing and 3) Heart Feeling (“Activate and sustain a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone or something in my life.”) Read the book for a full explanation. But the idea is to focus on your heart and have “an attitude of gratitude” for someone or something, rather than focus on what is not going well today. It might mean focusing on grandma, a friend, where we live or whatever we’re truly thankful for, even if it’s not what’s happening today. This really does work. It lowers blood pressure, and heals in other ways, including our hearts.

    Yeah, I know – some first century cranks wrote the Gospels and put whatever they wanted to say in Jesus’ mouth. Isn’t it amazing how they stumbled across this “love your neighbor as yourself” thing they had Jesus say? Who knew it really heals us?

    “An attitude of gratitude” – the gift we can give ourselves.

  • My friend, I wish you never had to know the evils of chronic pain to this extent… IT SUCKS that you, my sweet friend, have this. I am so grateful for you in my life…

  • Hmm…. this is something that has been difficult for me. I am growing into it. 🙂

    Growing up, in the midst of all the abuse that was going on, I was often shown examples of truly horrible abuse to set the definition of what abuse was (presumably so that I would not recognize that I was being abused). And I can remember when, as a child, I would voice complaint, I was told (both at home and at church) that I should be grateful because I had it so much better than _____ (fill in the blank). And then I would feel guilty for not being grateful for what amounted to abuse. And really, none of the people who said that to me knew the whole story of what I was enduring because I was too terrified to tell. This is called crazy-making. 🙂

    And yet, in looking back, I can see the places where God never let me go.
    And I am grateful to Him – to Jesus – for not abandoning me as so many others did, if not in body, in mind and emotion. And I am grateful that I survived with my sanity intact (more or less 😉 ).

    And I have learned to be grateful for little things as they happen. Moments of peace, small acts of kindness. Just His patience and quietly persistent love, and grace.

    But I don’t know if I can ever be grateful for the abuse itself. And I don’t know if I ever should, although there are those who think so.

    Thank you for this post and getting me to think about gratitude. 🙂

  • mary – i agree, it really does open up that space somehow, doesn’t it? and a little more joy never hurts in this nutty little life, eh? missed you wednesday but hope you were warm and safe.

    sam – i haven’t read those books, sound really interesting. i like that reminder that it is a gift we can give ourselves…you know the feeling, but sometimes as i’m walking thinking about how sucky this season is i don’t have to go far to realize how thankful i am that 1) i’m actually able to walk and 2) it could be so much worse and isn’t. it’s funny how the little things do become more important when pain sets in. healing prayers to you, my friend.

    tami – yes, the EVILS of chronic pain is something until now i haven’t had the opportunity to appreciate. it does suck so thanks for that. and just know how thankful i am for friends like you who understand.

    katherine – oh i am so with you girl. that came up in our conversation way back when when we had it, how it can trigger the “oh, no, is this going to be another one of those shaming-to-be-grateful-moments.” i do not ever think i will be thankful for my abuse. am i thankful for the healing that’s come over time related to it? the redemption that’s been possible, sure, i am, no question. but i do not ever feel the need to be thankful for it itself. i believe that would be a cruel thing to ask. thank you for sharing. i am grateful for others on the journey wrestling with hard things and finding hope.

    carlos – thank you my friend, i appreciate your prayers and love and definitely need them! i am doing better this week, though, very grateful for some relief in pain and being very good about laying low, low, low. love to you and your family from CO.


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