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November 1988. I was new in recovery, having entered treatment the first few days of the month. As it was the month of Thanksgiving, many meetings in the area would pass a can around for us to put in extra coins. It was part of a special fundraiser that provided Big Books and other material to local jails and prisons. It was called a “Gratitude Can.” It made us feel good to give back, even just a little.

Over the years, many of the meetings throughout the year would ask if anyone had a topic for that particular meeting. If no one jumped in quickly enough, someone, often my sponsor, would yell, “Gratitude!” Since a number of us were often at meetings together we couldn’t say the same thing each time. I actually had to dig to find something new to say about gratitude. One Tuesday evening, eight months sober, I sat and said, “I know I’m supposed to be grateful, but I don’t feel it today. I’ll work on it” and passed. The next evening, I got a phone call from a desperate parent. Their twenty-something year-old was experiencing problems and was often getting quite drunk. I met them at the apartment, talked for several hours, and around midnight took them to the local treatment program. At that moment I realized how much things had changed for me.

I was grateful!

Photo courtesy of Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

My love affair with gratitude had begun. It is one more principle and tool for recovery. For many, myself included, it is the one that supplies all others with energy and motivation. I learned to take gratitude- and its twin, acceptance- with me everywhere. Acceptance does not always mean approval, but simply seeing what is around me and knowing that this is the way it is. What am I going to do about it? What does God want me to do about it? Can I, in the midst of all things, maintain a sense of gratitude?

It soon changed the way I approached each day. I discovered it in preparing sermons or visiting members in their homes. I dug deep to see how it could be present in times of crisis or illness. It’s not easy to be grateful standing in a hospital room with a worried or grieving family. I found myself standing with more ease in the presence of the ups and downs of life. It was an ease that knew that no matter what, that this is where I am supposed to be at this moment. God was there. I just had to look around to find out what God expected.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Ly on Unsplash.

It became a spiritual discipline for me. It challenged many of my old ways of thinking. Even if I didn’t use the word gratitude, I sought ways to express it outwardly- or just to myself. Soon, as a friend once said, the colors and wonders of the world became so real and so loud that I couldn’t overlook them anymore. Spiritual discipline can lead to spiritual experiences. Most morning that meant simply waking up and truly being awake.

We hear it all the time- Keep a gratitude list!

  • Start each day with five things you are grateful for. No repeats in a week.
  • Some days make it a list of five people you are grateful for in your life. No repeats in a week.
  • Make a list every evening of three things that happened that day that you are grateful for. No repeats in a week.
  • Write a poem or a haiku on some part of gratitude that day.  The goal is not to write a great poem that others will “ooh and aah” over. It is to take a little time to do a deep dive into your own gratitude. Search inside you and see what you find.


Here’s the format for haiku:

  • Line 1: five syllables
  • Line 2: seven syllables
  • Line 3: five syllables.


Here are some examples that I played with, all titled simply- Gratitude:

Seasons come; things change.

Gratitude stays forever

And keeps me grounded.

Jesus makes my heart

Rejoice, filled with awe and peace-

Gladness leaping high.

United with grace,

Gratitude to God leads to

Joy within my soul.

Sing hallelujah

With thankful open hearts- I

Walk each day with grace.

As you can tell, there is nothing that requires these to be fine works of poetic art. Take a word, take and idea, take a line from a favorite hymn. Explore it for you.

Thirty-some years later, November is still gratitude month for me. Even though I work at living in gratitude all year, November is when I try to sharpen my skills. Use November to build your toolbox of gratitude. Be amazed at how much there is to be grateful for.

About the author

Photo provided by Barry Lehman.

Barry is an author, pastor, counselor, trainer/consultant, photographer, and musician. Learn more about him by visiting his website at

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