You gather family and friends of all ages in a large room and ask each person to hold a single, unlit candle.
Then you turn out the lights.
In the darkness, you ask someone to tell you about something they're grateful for - whether it's another person, an event or anything else. After sharing their story they light their candle. The next person does the same, and so on, right around the room, story by story.
After each expression of appreciation, the room grows a little brighter. By the time the last person has spoken, it's ablaze with light!
This idea is not new. One Christmas, a friend of mine heard a young woman reminiscing on a late night radio show about her family and friends doing just this.
"As I listened, I could almost see how beautiful their faces were, lit up with the joy of gratitude ... and with the glow of candlelight. Thinking about it still gives me goose bumps", she said.
Sadly, of course, that's not the way it is for everyone during the holiday season. But have you ever thought, we can still be grateful even if we feel our heart is breaking?
The fact is, even though a voice in our head might insist that's impossible without a Christmas of family and friends, gratitude at such times couldn't be more crucial. As singer-songwriter Alex Cook proclaims in his album, Arrival: "A heart full of thanks cannot be broken".
Here are a few of the things he was grateful for - things we can all appreciate:
- I'm grateful for shade and I'm grateful for light/I'm grateful for stars and the moon and the clear gentle silence of night
- I'm grateful to ask, and I'm glad I can borrow/And sometimes I'm just glad to try again tomorrow...
This is especially true at this time of year.
"Never did gratitude and love unite more honestly in uttering the word thanks, than ours at this season," wrote Mary Baker Eddy, in a Christmas letter during the early days of her Christian Science movement.
The baby whose birth is at the heart of this season grew into a man who knew a thing or two about unwavering gratitude.
After all, he was even able to express gratitude in the face of hopeless tragedy. The gospels record Jesus arriving at the scene only after his friend Lazarus had died and been buried.
What would you do under such circumstances? Cry? Grieve? Regret?
Surprisingly, Jesus did none of these things. Instead, he gave thanks to God for hearing his prayer even while the evidence was pointing the other way. Then, according to John's Gospel, the evidence changed. Lazarus emerged alive.
Of course, we don't need to face such a deep trauma to road-test the idea exemplified in the story. Whatever challenges we are facing today, it is perfectly practical to uphold gratitude to a Deity who does answer our humble prayers for help, even when circumstances seems to be painting a much bleaker picture.
I recall a dark-night-of-the-soul moment when my heartfelt prayers seemed to have gone unheeded. For some time I had been dreading the prospect of a certain chain of events which would have been been disastrous had it occurred. Then the first dreaded link suddenly appeared. I struggled with feelings of doom and gloom for several hours into the night - wrestling with that nagging voice insisting there were clear reasons to be ungrateful. But I refused to give up. I persistently, prayerfully held my ground until the darkness lifted and I reached the point of a no-holds-barred thankfulness. I even deeply appreciated the privilege of the spiritual struggle.
I felt at peace - convinced that infinite intelligence, the divine Mind, was in control.
Nothing more happened the next day. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, until it became clear the first link was also going to be the last. As it turned out, there simply was no chain.
So, never give up on gratitude, even if your mind, your body, your finances, your relationships - or just the nightly news - seem to say God has given up on you. After all, the message at the heart of the holiday season is that He/She never does give up on any one of us.
So reach for a spiritual gratitude and don't be surprised if that, in turn, also leads to very practical reasons to be grateful in this holy season.
Let's just imagine for a moment, if everyone, all around the world, did that. And then imagine if each one of us lit a candle as our gratitude turned into fruition.
Just picture the world aglow with candlelight and gratitude!
Maybe that global glow is not going to happen this year. But there's nothing stopping any of us from lighting the first candle.
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