Thanksgiving is upon us, and with it comes thoughts of turkey, pumpkin pies, and an abundance of gratitude. This is the season of thankfulness. We are reminded every November to count our blessings. So, how can we carry an attitude of gratitude with us throughout the year?
In the second part of the Living Into Community blog series, we explore author Christine Pohl's insights into how gratitude plays a significant role in community-building and what embracing gratitude looks like on the MPCS campus on a daily basis.
A Way of Life
Through gratitude, we see the goodness within others, as well as the actions of God within our lives. It begins with paying attention, says Ms. Pohl. “[G]ratitude is often a backward looking practice - but it also shapes the future in that it allows us to build on the past in hope and confidence.” She suggests that we begin each day with an attitude of thankfulness and then move throughout our day, blessing others with small words of appreciation and recognition of their efforts. By noticing and celebrating good, we will help cultivate our communities.
In Living Into Community, Ms. Pohl asserts that what is celebrated is repeated. If athletes with poor sportsmanship are lauded or employees with cut-throat attitudes continually receive praise and promotions, organizations should not be surprised to soon find an increase in undesirable behaviors among the rest of the group. Instead, organizations must notice the small acts of grace and truth. Our very Christian lives are a response to the grace we have received from God. Through abundant forgiveness and frequent celebration, Ms. Pohl says we are able to build safe communities that allow us to grow and venture to take good risks.
What does it mean to put gratitude into practice for a Christian school like MPCS? According to Living Into Community, gratitude is expressed at several levels: “thanksgiving and praise to God, gratitude as a posture for life, and gratitude as a response to others for who they are or for what they have given to us.” Here are some examples of what this looks like for the MPCS family:
Praise and thanksgiving to God: We offer God our praise through division-level weekly chapel worship and special school-wide chapel celebrations, as well as daily thankfulness through morning devotions and before meals.
A posture for life: The very core of MPCS is an attitude of gratitude. Students, faculty, and staff commit to expressing our gratitude by living for Jesus with changed lives. We pledge this through our code of conduct. We live this out in prayer for others, such as through staff prayer walks or the Moms in Prayer group. We thank God for our abundant blessings by being a blessing to others through Serve Saturdays, the annual Family Serve Day, and countless service projects throughout the school year.
Recognizing others: From morning announcements to social media posts, on a daily basis, members of the MPCS community are recognized for their servant hearts, generosity of spirit, or outstanding leadership, be it on the field or stage or in the classroom or community. When nominating students for Homecoming Queen/ Hoopcoming King or nominating alumni for the Alumnus of the Year award, the top criterion for consideration is how the nominee lives out the MPCS school mission to honor God, love others, and walk in Truth. Lower school students are recognized through the Kiawanis Terrific Kids program each month in chapel, and every lower school student is given the opportunity to shine during his or her Star Student Week. Faculty and staff are overwhelmingly supported by the Parent Teacher Fellowship. The generosity of donors is recognized at an annual donor dinner. The hard work of high school students and seniors is celebrated with prom and graduation. The list goes on, but there is no shortage of opportunities to express our gratitude or celebrate others.
Impediments to Gratitude
Our yearning for the ideal can lead to some problems with gratitude. Dissatisfaction with what we have or envy of others shows ingratitude for what we have been given; enjoyment-robbing entitlement leads us to overlook the needs of others; self-made attitudes of “I can do this alone” rob us of the opportunity to be mutually helpful, which is a means to deepen community.
Difficult circumstances and times of grief and sadness can easily lead us towards negativity, complaining, and grumbling. But, according to Ms. Pohl, “[g]ratitude is most striking when it is lived out in difficult circumstances.” For many of us, the slower pace of life during the initial days of the quarantine - the joy of time home with our families - was a blessing in disguise. Too much “busyness” is the enemy of Sabbath rest and leaves us with little room to pause and count our blessings. As we return to a “new normal,” may we remember to approach each day in gratitude.
Ultimately, according to Living Into Community, “[i]f we think about the different dimensions of gratitude - toward God, as a way of life, and toward one another - we realize that there are infinite opportunities to cultivate it.” Ms. Pohl continues, “Communities and congregations that last,...especially in difficult settings, practice and embody gratitude and celebration. Because celebration expresses meaning and joy of community in a ‘concrete and tangible way.’”
This reasoning explains why year-end, culminating celebrations for high school seniors, such as prom and graduation are so meaningful. And, why it hurt so much for the Class of 2020 to have these opportunities canceled or delayed. Graduation and other such events are tangible celebrations of 13 years of hard work, years of deepening friendships, years of community building. These events provide the opportunity for parents, faculty, staff, and peers to celebrate bright young minds, to express gratitude for having these students as part of our community.
The hope and prayer of the MPCS CommUNITY is that we love one another, expressing our thankfulness for each member of our family. Our gratitude, along with the practices of truth-telling, promise-keeping, and hospitality, will lead to a richer and deeper community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is the second part of a series exploring community-building practices outlined in the book Living Into Community by Christine Pohl. Amber Irizarry is the Communications Content Specialist at Mount Paran Christian School. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Communication from Georgia State University.
To learn more about the Mount Paran Christian School CommUNITY initiative for diversity and inclusion, click here.