After a Thanksgiving sermon, Dotty, an older member, greeted me at the door and told me “I know I should be more grateful. I’m working on my gratitude.” Dotty was one of the kindest, gentlest, and most thankful of people I had ever met. She radiated a life of being thankful. She said thank you to everyone. I considered Dotty a model of gratitude. And yet, she said she was still working on it. Her comment shaped my attitude on gratitude for decades to come. Gratitude is not infused into your DNA. It is not as though a person is either grateful or ungrateful, born with it or not, has it or doesn’t. Dotty radiated that gratitude is a journey, something to be worked on, with the end perpetually elusive. Her comment has haunted me as I wrestle with the question “How can I be more grateful?” 

When I was working at a school, a kitchen worker told me how every morning, when her toes touch the floor, she repeats the verse from Psalm 23 “My cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5 KJV). The magic of her statement was toes. Toes touching the floor signal how to begin the day before anything else, by expressing gratitude to God. That has become a mantra for me and to this day, I never forget because toes physically touching the floor remind me to say, to pray, and to own the attitude of gratitude: “My cup runneth over.”

I like the word mantra to describe this daily practice because a mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of creating transformation. In the case of people of faith, the goal would be a spiritual transformation. To transform means to change. What changes? Well, repeating this mantra daily changes how you see things. That makes all the difference in the world. How you see things affects your attitude, your mood, your spirit, your inner nature, your perspective on life, your contentment, and your devotion to God. It is truly amazing that changes of this magnitude can result simply from repeating a brief verse every day. The mantra shapes the day. Indeed, as the mantra becomes embraced as a core life attitude, it shapes your life. If we change how we see things, we change our attitude and that transforms our spirit.

My cup runneth over could almost sound like the speaker considers himself or herself wealthy. But wealth is not an amount. It never was and never will be. Wealth is an attitude. Some of the wealthiest people in the world feel poor and some of the poorest feel wealthy. Adopting the attitude of My cup runneth over shapes the difference. You rarely encounter a grateful person who is an unhappy person. 

Grateful people grow to be content. It is interesting to consider how so much of our strivings are in search of contentment. The Apostle Paul worked on this to the point where he could proclaim “For I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11). Learning to be content is a work in progress, like the quest to become more grateful. 

We journey towards contentment each time we say thank you. Thank others frequently. Watch for opportunities to thank another. Say thank you to God. Rather than beginning your prayers with petitions or asking, begin by thanking. Wake up each morning and go to bed each evening with the words on your lips My cup runneth over. Without gratitude, prayer and faith become hollow, but with thankfulness, our encounter with the Divine is made whole, and our vision becomes shaped by seeing through lenses of abundance rather than always looking through lenses of scarcity.


Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”

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