Psalm 50: 14 & 23, “A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving”

Verses 14 & 23: “Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High. If you call upon me in time of trouble, I will come to your rescue, and you shall honor me…He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving does me due honor. And to him who follows my way I will show the salvation of God.”

I grew up in a family with the practice of saying grace, a prayer of thanksgiving, before each meal. The grace or blessing, as it was also called, usually was a few sentences that thanked God for the food and asked that it be used for the nourishment of our bodies and minds in service to God. My family seemed to know that thanksgiving and God’s blessings accompany one another.

The positive effects of offering gratitude are well noted in the self-help culture with encouragements to make gratitude lists or keep a gratitude journal. As a psychoanalyst, I see how giving and receiving gratitude revitalizes, stabilizes, uplifts, and enlivens people.

Gratitude opens the heart. It softens our ego defenses and muscular tightening (or armoring), and it decreases feelings of general malaise, self-absorption, irrelevancy, and being alone. Offering words of thanksgiving automatically opens our limited self or ego consciousness to the reality of something bigger than ourselves. In the process, it causes chemical changes in our body that lighten our mood and improve our overall sense of wellbeing.

Given all the benefits of gratitude or thanksgiving, why would the Hebrew Scriptures describe it as a sacrifice? Sacrifice immediately evokes images of suffering, loss, and hardship. We think of having to give up something we do not want to lose.

The primary thing we lose when we offer gratitude or thanksgiving is the sense of being all there is and in charge. We could say we lose our primary narcissism and our illusion of omnipotence and omniscience. We recognize there is an Other that matters and upon whom we are ultimately dependent. Our ego gets knocked off its perch of self-sufficiency, isolation, and superiority. Psychologically, this means that we recognize our ego or conscious self is only a fragament of a larger Self.

In offering thanksgiving to God, or the Mystery by whatever name we call it, we acknowledge our finiteness and our dependency on forces greater than ourselves. We open to an influx of energy (the life force) that comes from a source beyond our cognitive understanding. We consciously take our place in the natural order as a co-creator and co-administrator. We experience consciously the guidance, help, and grace of the Divine Other.

My family’s consistent act of saying grace before meals is one way of practicing thanksgiving throughout the day. It provides an opportunity to realize our basic needs and physical desires are satisfied in relationship to the Divine Other.  “Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving” and open to receive the blessings that come.

Inner Reflection

How do you stay mindful of offering gratitude to your self, others, and God? What do you know about how gratitude affects you? Identify a daily practice of offering gratitude and begin it. Experiment with offering thanksgiving when you’re feeling down, impoverished, etc. See what happens.