“I’m Alive. Therefore, I’m Loved”: 5 Practices to Cultivate Gratitude
I was a twenty-two-year-old who quit college to “start a career in music.” I had no band, no manager, and no idea how the music industry worked. Eventually, my music caught the attention of an indie label in Kansas City. But even then, I seriously lacked the knowledge of how to work with them, let alone where I was going.
Despite the ups and downs, I retained a strong belief that the path I was on was the right one, and that the only way I could have value as an artist is if I did everything myself. But the shadow side of doing everything alone is that I spent a lot of time alone. The isolation was crippling, my soul longed for more connection. I was spiraling—questioning both my value and my ability to belong somewhere.
Even though I wasn’t in college, I got involved with a campus ministry. I drove 90-minutes roundtrip at least once a week because I craved connection. Maybe that longing is why I said yes when leaders invited me on a summer-long mission trip to Greece. At the very least, it sounded like an awesome adventure.
In reality, it was a new setting for the same old internal battle: the desire to be self-sufficient combatting the desire to belong.
Everything in Greece was disorienting. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know what I was eating. I didn’t understand the cultural norms. I found Greek college students—the ones I was supposed to be reaching—incredibly intimidating.
I was doing a terrible job.
I started asking, Why am I even here if I’m failing miserably at the very thing I’m supposed to be doing? What value do I have if I fear keeps me from the work I’m here to do? Of course, the true questions were deeper, What am I doing with my life? What value do I have? How will I ever belong?
The deepest question, ached more than the rest, How can I know if God loves me?
I asked a leader on the trip, who gave a simple, unforgettable answer: You can know you’re loved because you’re alive.
My life, my existence in the universe, is evidence that God loves me.
This truth is so easy to take for granted that I still don’t give it the attention it deserves. But I found myself repeating the leader’s words like a mantra, You’re alive; therefore, you’re loved.
My leader loaned me a copy of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp in which she describes how she grew in gratitude by intentionally observing ordinary aspects of her life. She grounds the book in the Greek word eucharisteo, which means “thanksgiving.” Ironically, it was one of the few words I felt comfortable speaking to Greek natives, “thank you.” I quickly discovered that the more I told God thank you, the more I saw God’s transcendence in ordinary life.
The lesson was solidified when a local Greek running club invited me on a spur of the moment adventure: a run to the peak of Mount Hymettus. As an overconfident 22-year-old, I was game. After all, this “mountain” in Athens would be considered a foothill in Colorado.
I was wrong.
The first half of the mountain wrecked me. By that point, the group had broken up due to varying paces. I was alone. Left to my thoughts. Physically exhausted. Frustrated by my poor athletic performance and poor social performance making connections with students on campus. Yet again, I began to question my value.
And in that moment of physical emptying—when all I could feel was my worn-out body and aching heart—I became overwhelmed with awareness of the life I overlooked. In this awareness, I found the familiar mantra on my lips with an added twist, “I am alive; therefore, I am loved. Eucharisteo. Eucharisteo.”
It took this humbling—realizing my inability to be self-sufficient—for me to see how securely sustained I was. In response, I could only say thank you.
Soul-level thanksgiving requires the humility to see that what you have is not solely of your own making. Soul-level thanksgiving requires attentiveness to the ordinary goodness your maker clothes everyday life in. Soul-level thanksgiving requires admitting your insufficiency to God, and rejoicing in Jesus, whose sole sufficiency creates, sustains, and renews your entire being.
The beauty of God’s story isn’t merely that I’m alive. It’s that I am alive because I am loved. (Eph. 1:4-5)
5 Practices to Cultivate Gratitude
A life of gratitude takes more than a one-time run up a mountain in Greece. So, here are 5 ways I cultivate gratitude in ordinary life:
1. Consistent participation in church community.
Christianity and self-sufficiency are incompatible. I need my brothers and sisters in Christ, who sharpen, encourage, and challenge me. When I experience the gift of their presence and grace consistently—in worship, small groups, and hospitality—I am consistently reminded to give thanks to God. I don’t deserve a community, but God graciously gave me one. Thank you, thank you.
2. Time and attention to observe nature.
Fall is insane. The colors of trees and plants changing can be explosively beautiful, especially when contrasted against a misty gray sky. The loveliness of it all reminds me to thank God for good creation. Likewise, I can’t control the weather, so I must humble myself to and receive the gift of seasonal rhythms. They remind me that God is in control. He’s watching over me and his world. Thank you, thank you.
3. Regular, generous, financial giving.
Giving “my” hard-earned money away powerfully contradicts the life-stealing narrative of self-sufficiency. When I tithe, I’m actively remembering that God is my provision and that nothing I have is ultimately from my own. Tithing reminds me that all I have is a gift from God. Thank you, thank you.
4. Physical acts of service.
My big one: washing the dishes. I learned this spiritual practice from One Thousand Gifts. (Yes, it’s a spiritually forming practice.) I’m from a big family where dishes piled up fast, and one of us would get stuck washing for an hour or so… I hate doing the dishes. I especially hate doing other people’s dishes.
But it’s a profound practice for my soul. Through this physical act of service where I use my body and time to bless someone else, I am reminded of all the ways I’ve been served and blessed. All the ways God cleans up messes I’ve left behind. Thank you, thank you.
5. Memorizing the Psalms.
Giving scripture the space to grow deep roots in my soul has been foundational for reorienting my heart to the story God is writing in history. It also shapes my prayer language. One practice that has helped me take time in scripture is memorizing the Psalms. Try memorizing one of these ancient songs: Psalm 1, 19, 34, 51, 73, 131, 139.
Don’t wait until you’re exhausted, running up a mountain in a foreign country to see that the God who spoke creation into existence loves you so much that he chose to create you as an eternal being in his eternal universe. Instead, open your eyes to God’s story unfolding around you each day. And may your response be thanksgiving.
Spending intentional time in prayer can help you cultivate a heart of gratitude. Read about the Prayer of Examen, a prayer practice to help you practice gratitude each day.