Why gratitude matters to self, neighbor, God

I’ve always been an early riser. I wish I could say I spend my pre-dawn hours cozied up on a couch under a warm blanket, sipping coffee, taking in the sights and sounds of the early morning. That sounds so beautiful, so nourishing for the soul, so restorative and rejuvenating. And something I wish I could say I do.

But that’s just not me.

I like silence. And with three kids and a puppy and a husband who does a lot of work from home, that feels impossible to get sometimes.

I awoke early this Thanksgiving morning not only for the silence, but because I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Having children has made me painfully aware of my own mortality, so I don’t take anything for granted these days. We’re still here? Great. That feels like a win.

Soon after counting my blessing that we’ve survived another year, I counted all of you as my blessings, too. Love First has grown into a community of loving people who are dedicated to ministering to – and with – children, and it’s all because of you. I read all of your messages and comments, I take every request for visits or phone calls, and I remember every single conversation any of us has ever had. Everything you see on this website is a response to all of you, and I’m so grateful for the time and energy you spend thinking about love and how I can help you do it better in your communities.

Gratitude and Love First

We talk a lot about gratitude in the month of November, and not just because it’s Thanksgiving season. We do it because it fits so perfectly with the principles of Love First, and we’re delighted that there’s a whole month of the year where our calendar calls for it. So how does it fit into Love First?

Easy. So, so easy.

Our Love First program focuses on love, of course. But we also try to divide it up throughout the year into three units: loving self, loving our neighbors, and loving God. While it feels linear, like the days and weeks of the year, it’s really cyclical (as anyone who uses Love First will quickly learn). You are loved by God, our neighbors are loved by God, showing love to ourselves and our neighbors is where God lives, and so on and so forth.

Gratitude and Love Self

Without exception, pausing to count my blessings always, always, always results in my feeling uplifted. It is the ultimate act of self-care, in my opinion. (So much so that it’s a wonder I don’t find a way to stay permanently in this state.) This is a fail-proof way to widen your lens, to appreciate what you have, and to stop thinking about what you’re missing or what is wrong. It reminds me of counting sheep: if you keep visualizing the sheep, you really don’t notice the wolf.

The reminders to be grateful are important because they really do work. Whether it’s a tea towel, note pad, or piece of art that says ‘Be Grateful,’ these do tend to work. Consider using technology to your benefit and set a daily reminder on your phone or Alexa to ‘count a blessing.’ Or better yet: count one right now and then share it with us.

Gratitude and Love Neighbor

Our family traveled to Guatemala earlier this year to see the work being done by Maya Childcare for children living in extreme poverty. The images of our well-nourished, privileged children playing with Guatemalan children whose families are struggling to stay housed, healthy, and fed is something we think about every single day.

Being grateful for the gifts we’ve received is important to our neighbors struggling in Guatemala because many of our blessings were not things earned or deserved; we just got them because we’re lucky. And forgetting this fact feels like an insult to those who are not so lucky. Besides, my luck isn’t for my comfort alone, it’s so I have the energy to help others get theirs too.

This helps with parenting, too, to remind children of the things bestowed upon us merely because we’re lucky folks.

Like, for example, flu shots.

My kids really fought the flu shot this year, and I tried every form of bribery to get it done quickly and efficiently. When my patience was exhausted, I got real with them and declared that we should be grateful for flu shots because we’re lucky enough to have access to medicine that helps us stay healthy.

And it totally worked.

Just kidding. It was totally ineffective with my children, but I will definitely try it again next year.

Gratitude and Love God

When I count my blessings, or express gratitude, I’m usually talking to God. Thank you, God, for her and him, this and that, and those and these. I mean, who else would we be talking to?

Working with children (and adults!), I often hear: I don’t get it, why does God let people suffer?

Maybe I’m too pragmatic, or maybe it’s from taking time to observe wildlife, but I’ve never ever wondered why God allows suffering. It’s clear that living means dying; you can’t get one without the other. And losing something or someone might include pain, grief, and suffering. But the alternative to avoiding all suffering is not living, and that doesn’t sound great either.

Even so, I don’t think God is there to protect us from suffering or dying. I think God is there to remind us that we have people to love in the midst of it.

So keep loving. Because it matters to us, to our neighbors, and to God.

Thank you, God, for this Love First community and for leaving me here another day so I can help it grow. And thank you, God, for giving us love in the midst of our suffering. Because that’s what makes the suffering bearable.

Colette Potts is the creator of the Love First children’s ministry and author of Love First: A Children’s Ministry for the Whole Church. Potts is a family therapist, mother to three, and wife of an Episcopal priest.