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Center for Action and Contemplation

Gratitude is a Practice

Friday, November 25, 2022

Kristi Nelson is the director of A Network for Grateful Living, founded by Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast and friends. She shares her own story of learning to embrace gratitude as a way of life:

At 33 years old, I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had metastasized to my spine. After going through 18 months of hospitalizations, surgeries, chemotherapy, and treatments, I asked my oncologist, “When will I be out of the woods?” He answered, “You will never be out of the woods.” Having worked so hard to stay alive, I had not grasped the degree of uncertainty and struggle that would come with being a survivor. Understanding that my life would only ever be lived with the caveat of “for now” was sobering. I wondered so many things: How do I continue to live this way? What am I able to count on? . . . How do I live while expecting to die?

The first few years of uncertainty and remission put the blessings of my life in sharp relief. I was in super-soak mode—every experience was saturated with new meaning, and I was absorbing it all fully. I did not know any other way to live the moments I had than to greet each one as gratefully as I could. Not sure how much more time was mine, I was awestruck by every moment, every person, and every thing. Being grateful the first few years was relatively easy and revelatory. I would wake up in a room bathed in light, hear birds singing, and notice I was still breathing. . . . I could put both feet on the floor and walk freely to a kitchen where I could make a cup of tea. It was enough to make me start each day with tears of joy. Being alive was enough.

Perhaps like many of us, as her health stabilized, Nelson became “immune” to spontaneous daily gratitude:

But over time, all those amazing reasons to feel grateful joined the ranks of the taken-for-granted. I got healthy and busy. I began chasing goals and the fulfillment they promised. I martyred myself to a job, complained about things like traffic, my weight, and colds. I ruthlessly compared myself to others, succumbed to retail therapy and debt, and suffered from stress. Each year that passed, I built up a kind of gratitude tolerance—what used to be enough got left in the dust in the pursuit of having more. Having cheated death, I began cheating life.

After some challenging years, dramatic wake-up calls, and my share of spiritual suffering, I came to realize that maintaining a grateful perspective is a true practice. . . . This capacity for grateful perspective is a muscle I needed to build and use, and it is still something I need to nurture and tend daily. . . . The practice of looking at the world through grateful eyes and with a grateful heart is an exquisite end in itself.  


Kristi Nelson, Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2020), 1–2, 3.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Aaron Burden, Untitled (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Vidar Nordli-Mathisen, Laughing Nuns (detail), 2018, Italy, photograph, Unsplash. Aaron Burden, Untitled (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Thank you, Spirit, for life. Thank you for shared joy. Thank you for beauty. Amen.

Story from Our Community:

Now in my eighties, I am slowing down. Recent heart problems have made me realize how I have taken this faithful servant for granted. Recently, when I experience heart palpitations, I pause to thank my heart for its long service. I tell it I would understand if it wants to stop now to rest. This practice makes me value each moment. I find I am full of gratitude and quiet joy. —Diana L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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