The Healing Power of Gratitude
As we move into the late fall and the celebration of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls (and, of course, Halloween), I become especially aware that we are moving into the extended Holiday season of Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the New Year. It is a season of heightened emotions, excitement, expectation, and gratitude. Yet we also know from our own experiences that these heightened emotions may sometimes be accompanied by additional stress from excessive busyness, and that for many this is a particularly difficult season of the year. The days become shorter, and memories surface that bring a mix of both joy and sadness. For some, this sadness can move into serious depression. Physically, we become more susceptible to fatigue and illness (there’s a reason we get our flu shots in the fall). As mission leaders, we do well to remain tuned into our own emotional roller coasters during this season. We also do well to remain mindful that our colleagues, our families and friends, and those who come into our hospitals and clinics for care are also bringing their own complex mix of memories and emotions, joys and sorrows.
In light of all of this, it may be worthwhile to pause to reflect upon the power of simple gratitude. Some of us may recall learning the five basic forms of prayer in our early catechism classes. Not surprisingly, prayers of gratitude or thanksgiving to God are one form, along with prayers of adoration, petition, intercession, and praise. Indeed, gratitude may be the most fundamental human response – along with awe – to the realization that God’s graciousness is the very source of everything that is. In one of the more beautiful quotes about gratitude in Scripture, Paul writes “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus
” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at University of CA, Davis, and one of the leading researchers on gratitude, often states that “gratitude has the power to heal, to energize, and to change lives.” He has found that people who write down 3-5 things for which they are grateful on a daily basis experience an increasing in well-being and a decrease in stress. They are more alert, active, and awake, they get more and better sleep, they are more resilient both to everyday and traumatic stress, they are more intimately connected with others, they are less likely to get sick, and are more likely to be generous to others.
One simple exercise that I have tried is to end each day by listing at least 3 things for which I am grateful to God during that day (I find it works best to write them down). When I have remembered to do this, I have found that I experience a greater sense of abundance and openness to the possibilities of the working of the Holy Spirit. In fact, sometimes I end up listing some of the negative or difficult experiences from my day as gratitudes, as I realize they were small opportunities for me to grow or to be challenged, or to practice spiritual detachment from the outcomes of my efforts and desires.
So as we move into the season of Holiday pressures and joys, you might find this exercise of writing down your gratitudes quite helpful. You also might look for small “gratitude moments” to include in your mission leadership ministry. Perhaps beginning a meeting with a space to share gratitudes or to honor them in shared silent space. Perhaps expressing your gratitude to others for who they are, and the work they do to support the healing ministry. Perhaps creating a public space for others to write down and share their gratitudes, on a bulletin board or online.
We are not very likely going to be able to slow down the pace of our daily schedules, to eliminate all the extra office parties and family gatherings, or to magically avoid the emotional ups and downs of the season. But if we intentionally cultivate some additional gratitude during this season – not just at Thanksgiving – we may be surprised at how much awe, appreciation, and gratitude can support and enhance our work in the healing ministry of Jesus.
Congratulations to George Avila (MAHCM, 2015)
We recently learned that George Avila, who graduated from our M.A. in Health Care Mission in 2015 was named Vice President of International Mission Integration for CHRISTUS Health in Irving, TX. George will be supporting and developing the work of mission leaders, especially in Latin America. We are proud of our graduates and grateful for all the work that our current and future graduates do to support Catholic health care and the healing ministry of Jesus!
Know Someone with a “Heart for Mission”?
As Catholic health care continues to evolve the role of the mission leader is becoming increasingly important. Do you know someone in your system who seems to have a real heart for the mission, or seems particularly passionate about or interested in health care as a ministry of the church? Many of our graduates were invited into this ministry by others. If you see this leadership potential in someone within your organization, you might want to suggest the possibility of focusing on mission work. Feel free to send them to our website
, or the Executive M.A. in Health Care Mission
or Certificate for Mission Leadership
sites for more information. And thank you for being a part of this network of healing ministers!