A wise person once observed that “gratitude is the aristocrat of attitudes.” Gratitude not only shows consideration for the one who gave a gift or did a favor, it also promotes mental health if we cultivate the habit of gratefulness for things great and small.
In giving thanks, we mustn’t overlook God! Gratefulness to God is at the heart of this attitude, for God has created everything that we are grateful for.
Several psalms offer invaluable guidance for cultivating this “aristocratic attitude.” In modeling how to pray our gratitude, the psalms suggest two major reasons for doing so.
First, in several psalms of petition the psalmist promises to tell others of the favors received — to thank the Lord “before the assembly.” In voicing our thanks to God for his goodness, we evangelize others.
Psalm 69, a cry from the depths of distress that became a source for the account of Christ’s passion, promises to praise God in song and adds, “The poor when they see it will be glad and God-seeking hearts will revive.”
The author of Psalm 142, begging for rescue from perfidious friends, says: “Around me the just will assemble because of your goodness to me.”
This theme is reflected in a reading from Mark’s Gospel. The man from whom Jesus had driven out many demons begs to be allowed to follow him. Instead Jesus, who prayed the psalms regularly, tells him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” The man does so, and “everyone was amazed.”
Gratitude psalms range from those composed for a king’s victory to psalms of private individuals for unspecified favors. Psalm 18 rings out King David’s praise for God, who snatched him from a powerful enemy whose strength he could not match. It closes with the promise: “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations.”
In contrast, Psalm 116 fulfills the promise of an anonymous, grateful petitioner to praise God before all the people. Perhaps this psalm was composed by an “official” psalmist at a grateful person’s request, much as we might request a Mass to be said for our intentions.
Second, expressing gratitude to God increases our confidence that he will hear our prayers again. Psalms of petition often recall God’s previous favors and thank him.
Even Psalm 22 — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — is suffused with confidence based on God’s favors to Israel and on the fact that God has always “heard the poor when they cried.” Whatever the person’s present trials, the Lord is greater still.
Communal laments, too, juxtapose the memory of God’s favors with pleas for help. Psalm 44 recalls how God “uprooted the nations” to settle the Israelites in the Promised Land. Faced now with new disaster, the people invoke the memories of God’s love and beg: “Redeem us!”
A prayer for Thanksgiving or any time: “God, giver of all that is good, unite us in our gratitude to you, to one another and for your countless gifts.”
De Flon is editor-at-large at Paulist Press and the author of “The Joy of Praying the Psalms.”