Is Gratitude an Anabaptist thing, or did I mess up?


My church is studying gratitude, and I’m not comfortable.

  1. I’ve not been sure that gratitude is an Anabaptist thing. The early martyrs suffered for their beliefs. They refused to fight back physically because Jesus had not done so. Thus, torturers and interrogators had their way with them, but many Täufer and Täuferin remained loyal to a freer, more radically imagined interpretation of relationship to God and the Bible. They suffered, believed, and died.
  2. In my part of the country, the Swiss work ethic that guides us demands—well, Work. Not work for salvation, which is grace freely given, but work for the Kingdom on Earth. We do the work of our Lord, we enter helping professions, we mediate and we compromise. My dad, who came from outside the faith, once said that he found a Mennonite day’s work to be 98% more than another person’s work. Work, not gratitude, is the driving force of our lives. God is the king/queen bee and we are the worker bees!
  3. Gratitude to Whom?—God through Jesus, of course, but there are problems with the concept. Several years ago, I entered a situation in which I had to face that my former, profuse thanks to God for answering my prayers for protection from all kinds of bad things was false at best, and immature at its core. Because my mom and dad were church workers who eventually settled in Bluffton, Ohio, and were associated with the college there, and because my father got a masters degree in the philosophy of religion, I assumed myself a little more interested in religion than some. (Good grief.) I read existentialism, respected other religions, and felt that I valued the variations in my own sect’s interpretations of Biblical texts and the role of Jesus.

I spoke directly to God (yep, I did) petitioning, promising, and bargaining. After all, I worked hard at being an Anabaptist. Everybody I knew did, too, and we’d earned the right, hadn’t we? I asked God to take problems that I didn’t know how to handle. I thanked God when things went well and scolded God for not doing a good job when things didn’t. ‘Do your job, God! I’m doing mine—and all my work is for You!’

Then one year, I ran into a situation so tough it flattened me in every way. My work ethic, my skills as a mediator, my faith that ‘Faith will make things better’ were not of any help. No amount of petitioning and promising would change the situation. I’ll not go into its details here, of course. Suffice it to say that every life has that moment, when we find ourselves so ripped from our daily trajectory through our world that we lose God. As if in a horror movie, I stared into Nietzsche’s abyss and the abyss gazed back. This actually happened to me one afternoon for an awful (or awe-filled) moment. I was losing it!

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Gradually, through a lessening of the pain of the event—and because of a really good therapist—who recognized that I needed to Work on my next goals rather than stewing in anger, I began to recover. But now, as I walk forward, I hold the hands of new ideas: 1) if I thank God for the good things in my life, I’m surely going to blame God when things are not good; 2) whatever God may be is bigger than any theologian, male or female—highly educated or a ‘two by four’—can know. Period.

We’re ignorant and small, no matter how hard we try to be big and smart. 

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

The only place we can see that we actually matter is in proximity to others. My dad really liked studying Ethics, possibly because ethical behavior actually counts and can be clearly experienced. How we treat each other provides the nuts and bolts of life. Cursing the children, enslaving women, providing below-living wages, and throwing a race of poor people into jails are not acceptable behaviors. Everyone knows that, even though some indulge in such things. Listening, helping, trying to be a good person, and working hard at good things are behaviors that move societies forward. Simple, clear, end of story, right?

That leaves God as 1) a perfect, loving being that controls our now and future lives, 2) a Being so angry at bad behavior that he demanded the death of his only son to placate him, or 3) something else. It is that something else that interests me, now, and my free will gives me the responsibility to decide how much to pursue this new Something or Somethings.  

I—Don’t—Know. See?

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What a wonderful place to be in. It’s freeing. If I stay clear of that abyss and try to be ethical, I’m doing well and my feet are on the ground. If I add my church’s interests and missions to the mix, I’m even happier, especially because I don’t have to Know. I can Travel in Search Of Meaning. 

Tee-hee, the Swiss side of me is a little nonplussed because the traveler’s way is not a sure path, but the Scottish side of me crows and leaps in joy. We’re going on a trip, we’re explorers!

But what about Gratitude? If I don’t want to fall back into the habit of thanking and blaming God, whom do I thank?

As stated above, Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship has begun a study of gratitude. Pastor Renee Kanagy has talked about learning to recognize joy and gratitude in our most vulnerable times. In this week’s Tuesday Tidings, our church newsletter, she recommended Diane Butler Bass’s Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. 

Bass says (Renee writes):

“Gratefulness is not a magic fix, but it just might be the bright star directing us to a new and better place. A gratitude that holds the possibility of spiritual and ethical transformation. A mode of gratitude in which we freely respond to gifts that exist before us. The universe is a gift. Life is a gift. Air, light, soil and water are gifts. Everything we need is there, with us. We freely respond to these gifts by choosing a life of mutual care.” Gratitude, xxiv

Steve Herbold, our worship leader a few Sundays ago, encouraged us to peruse the writings of the  anonymous H.H. or the Happier Human: ‘The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life.’   H.H. is quick to identify as non-religious, but he or she gathers research on the effects of practicing gratitude. To whom one is grateful is not terribly important to H.H. Gratefulness, (s)he says, makes people like us more, helps our health and careers, and gives us that most important life skill: resilience. (There are many statistics made available in the article for those who like that sort of thing.)

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At CMF, Pastor Renee and the Spiritual Life Team have challenged us to ‘write and share three notes of gratitude each week over the next six weeks .’

Here is the plan: ‘Identify three specific CMF-related moments or experiences you are grateful for. The medium is your choice: send a card, an email, a text. It is important to put words to your experience of gratitude. Share the gratitude with the persons involved.’

Oh, wait a minute. Hold the phone, Greta—don’t call God in the haughty way you used to. What my Anabaptist friends are saying is that I can be grateful to my fellow human folk for the ethical things that they choose to do which make life better for all. I can sit quietly each day for just a few minutes and recognize good things with a grateful mind: a good weather day, cooking the salmon the right amount of time once in a while, waking up without last night’s back ache, babies born to our church family, kids graduating. 

But the one thing I won’t do—and I have never seen any serious person do—is thank God for good fortune, while tisking at the bad fortunes of others.

We can hope that, even though so many people on this planet suffer under national and tribal war clubs, our practicing gratitude might give us the energy to try to be  ambassadors of reconciliation.  

It is enough for me right now. Blessings, CMF family. I will write my first thank you note today.

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash


I welcome your comments:

{Thank you to my niece, Addie Liechty, for taking the picture that is this blog’s featured image. Her blog is:}

Best wishes and have a good week.



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Greta Holt

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