faith, Pandemic Wisdom

Gratitude and Soul Work

It’s the season we share so many words about gratitude. So many that we may be tempted to stop listening or reading after a while.

We know gratitude and happiness are linked. We know it is a spiritual practice to stay in the moment and to stay grateful for all we have. We know how important it is to be thankful.

We’ve seen first hand how hard times can actually magnify our gratitude. Certainly the past years of the pandemic have sharpened our ability to be grateful for life, health, science, community, home and more.

I’ve been reading The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World by Lewis Hyde. It is not a new book. It is called a modern classic. In the forward, author Margaret Atwood writes, A classic….If you want to write, paint, sing, compose, act, or make films, read The Gift.

Hyde begins by describing gifts, the gift of art, yes, but other gifts as well. By researching economics, folklore, literature, history and tribal customs, he describes the Mystery of circular gifting. He outlines how important gift giving is across cultures, through life passages and how crucial it is that gifts keep circulating, being consumed, appreciated and shared. One never wants to stop the flow of generosity. This includes appreciating gifts of art and creativity.

Hyde’s writing captured my heart this Thanksgiving season with the idea that accepting gifts can actually transform us…so can giving them. Have you ever received a gift that seemed so surprising that it changed you?

In high school I worked as a waitress in a local restaurant. We had all kinds of customers, including those who never ate, but just came in for a drink or two at the bar after work. In my downtime, I would chat with those customers in between serving my tables. One night, right before I left for my first year of college, one of the “bar regulars” surprisingly asked to be seated at a table. He ordered a meal, ate it and left me a $100 tip with a note on a napkin wishing me the best in college. I don’t remember his name but I do remember that gift. It changed me. It is etched on my heart.

Hyde writes, With gifts that are agents of change, it is only when the gift has worked in us, only when we have come up to its level, as it were, that we can give it away again. Passing the gift along is the act of gratitude that finishes the soul’s labor. The transformation is not accomplished until we have the power to give the gift on our own terms. The Gift, p. 60.

Hyde helped me see that it is not enough to just list our gratitude on Facebook or in our journals. It is not enough to feel blessed or even to count those blessings. If you feel grateful because of what you have or who you love or because you have comfort, joy and amazing gifts in your life, your soul still has work to do. If you have ever experienced God’s amazing grace or forgiveness in a situation where you didn’t deserve it, your soul still needs to labor over that gratitude.

If you have ever received any gift that transforms you, from the gift of falling in love, having a child or even receiving a surprise $100 tip, the gift cycle must go on or your soul work is not yet done.

I try to be grateful every day and stay in the present moment. Now I see true thanksgiving actually calls me to something even bigger, soul work to keep the God-infused mysterious giving cycle going.

I’m adding an item to my daily to-do list to help me remember that it is not all about me and what I’ve received. Here’s how I’ll word it: What specific gift can I give today? As it turns out, my grateful soul still has work to do.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor and Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. Go to to see upcoming speaking events, read more blogs and to sign up for Cindy’s Inner Circle month email top ten list.

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