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Everyday Gratitude

by The Rev. Charlotte LaForest

This summer my family moved into a house on the edge of campus at the boarding school where my husband works. I made a trip to Home Goods one day as we were getting set up in the new house, and I found a small decorative piece that made its way into my cart and on to my desk at home. It's a small canvas, stretched and mounted, that bears these words: "There is always something to be grateful for." 

 It's a sneaky little piece of art, because it continually catches me by surprise--it will catch my attention in my grumbliest and grouchiest of moods and challenge me to think of at least one thing for which I am grateful in that moment. And it's rare that I can stop at just one thing I'm grateful for--once I start, it usually spirals out into all kinds of directions. Without fail, my mood and my perspective changes, and rather than grumbling and grouching about what isn't going right, I'm suddenly thinking about and giving thanks to God for everything that is going right, for all the gifts that God has given me.

This month we will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving, and I am glad that we have a holiday that makes room for gratitude. But just like turkey and cranberry and stuffing sandwiches should not be restricted to one day a year, neither should our gratitude. The transience of gratitude in our culture is epitomized by the quickness with which people rush from their Thanksgiving tables, where they've just expressed their gratitude for all the things they have, to hit the stores to buy more things.

In contrast to the culture of consumerism that tells us we always need more, sustained gratitude is actually a radical approach to life. It proclaims that everything our lives is a gift from God, and that these gifts we have been given are enough. A life of gratitude invites us to live generously in response, to share the gifts we have been given with the people around us.

If we are to live with this kind of sustained gratitude, we need to cultivate this attitude within ourselves. One practice I find especially helpful is the Ignatian Examen, a prayer practice of briefly reflecting on the day that originates with St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Examen invites us to recognize and express gratitude for how God has been present in our day, to spend some time with God in the present moment, and to place tomorrow's in God's hands.

In a new book (and free mobile app!) called Reimagining the Examen, Mark Thibodeaux, S.J. provides new ways to approach the Examen, one of which focuses specifically on gratitude. I offer it to you below, in hopes it will guide you in your prayers and help you develop a sustained sense of gratitude all month, even before the turkey is carved.

From Reimagining the Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray From Your Day by Mark Thibodeaux, S.J. (Loyola Press, 2015).

  1. I quiet myself and slow my breathing.  I sit still for a moment and try to turn down the volume on my random thoughts and preoccupations.
  2. I ask God to reveal, in a special way today, all the blessings of my life--the really big ones and the small ones too.
  3. I ask myself, "What am I most grateful for today? What fills me with joy and gratitude?" Usually one person, place, event or thing will pop up immediately.  I name this thing before God: "Lord, I am so grateful for your gift to me of _________." I repeat this a few times, letting the gratitude sink deep.
  4. I relish this one gift for awhile.  If i am most grateful for my sister, for example, I place her face before my mind's eye.  I see her smile; I watch one of her gestures that always warms my heart.  And I just sit there, filled with love.  All the while, I say, "Thank you, Lord."  I may be grateful for a thing or an organization, for my cozy house and the comfort it offers.  Perhaps I am most grateful for something that has happened recently.  Whatever gift is my focus, I stay with it in prayerful imagination, allowing the good feeling to well up within me, all the while saying, "Thank you, Lord."
  5. I now more lightly watch as, one by one, in chaotic and random order, the big and small gifts of my life float before my mind's eye: my health--"Thank you, Lord"; my relatives (even the difficult ones!)--"Thank you, Lord"; my talent for making people laugh--"Thank you, Lord"; the exotic meal I successfully cooked last night--"Thank you, Lord." On and on--a Thanksgiving parade to rival Macy's!
  6. I ask myself if there are any last words I want to say to the Lord.
  7. I close with one or two of the following gestures: I place my hands together as a sign of closure, bow, make the sign of the cross, or say an Our Father.
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