Nouwen: The Discipline of Gratitude

Gratitude … goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

–Henri J. M. Nouwen

It actually is a major turning point in your life, the day it dawns on you that you need to do gratitude as a discipline. It delivers you one more step from the realm of sight into the realm of faith. It frees you from the vicissitudes. Each act of thanking opens up the next moment’s vision, that you would never have seen otherwise. Joy is an epistemological position.

Those who insist on striking an “objective” stance toward the universe, then reacting with joy or thanks when something good strikes their sense-organs, are doing nothing more than reductionism toward their own selves. They create a self-fulfilling bad prophecy, which they then label “science”. Let’s consciously strip ourselves of part of our humanity and then observe what kind of a universe that sub-human inhabits.

Paul says it like this: “They didn’t see fit to acknowledge the Creator, so their hearts were darkened.”

This is epistemological method, folks.

Stated, again, differently:

Because my reception of the gift of life by Christ is so remote in my memory, it is the massive difference between what may have been, i.e. what was already there ready to spring out in perversion in its season, and what is now that shows me how great God’s work has been. When I see what I know I would have done contra what God has done in me, it is a wide, wide gulf between them. I know it is God alone Who gives me any compassion at all; I may be a “humanitarian misanthrope” now, but if God had not found me, I would be alternating between the lust of nihilism and the futility of legalism (set by the measure of my own unbridled will alone), incapable of charity, without grace and without mercy. Because of what I see of unsaved-me, everything is a blessing, everything is mercy, everything in my life is the grace of God Himself.

Also, here is Douglas Wilson on the same theme:


..those who rebel against God in the first chapter of Romans are described as having two signature positions–their refusal to honor God as God, and their refusal to give Him thanks.

Our fundamental apologetic method, our basic evangelistic attitude, must therefore we gratitude. As an apologetic statement of the truth of the gospel, it is impossible to answer convincingly. Gratitude collides with grumbling. Thankfulness excludes murmuring. And St. Paul tells us that when we refrain from grumbling and complaining, we shine like lights in the firmament, bright stars against a jet black backdrop.

But such thanksgiving is a spiritual discipline. We learn how to do this…

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