Thanks Be to God: Gratitude as Prayer

This is an excerpt from XXIII/2 (March/April 2008), “Adoration”

Several years ago, I joined [an old friend] in exchang[ing] short lists of particular things in our lives for which we were grateful. “Particular” was mandatory: no vague generalizations about good health or pleasant weather. Our identified blessings might be small, but they had to be specific.

Soon after beginning this regimen… my friend fell and broke her arm [and] I underwent surgery to repair a tendon in my shoulder. We kept careful track of every miniscule gain during our recoveries, noting each small step out of disability and pain not only as milestone but as gift.

We realized…that gratitude is not simply an easy emotion or obvious response; it can be a challenging discipline, with far-reaching implications for the way we see the world.

Cognitive psychologists urge their patients to list things they are grateful for as…an exercise that trains those who may be habitually discouraged, resentful, or exhausted by depression, to begin to see patches of light in the prevailing darkness, to be able to shift from a dominant attitude of negativity to a more positive approach to their situation.

My friend and I certainly found this to be true….What began as a simple accounting of the mercies in our lives…gradually came to change not only what we saw (“things” to thank God for) but how we saw them (with amazement, joy, love, and praise). Saluting a greater number of the manifold blessings half-hidden in the landscape of our daily lives (a simple quantitative change), lead us¾without our really intending it¾to a qualitative change perception. This was the first gift our practice gave us.

[The] second gift our practice of gratitude gave my friend and me [is that] over time, we came to see… more deeply into the mystery of things. We began to see grace… surrounding and pervading and defining everything. In St. Paul’s…apt phrase, the eyes of our hearts were enlightened (Eph. 1:18).

For Jews and Christians, who know God to be the fount of all blessing, gratitude has always been an essential (even though implicitly difficult or costly) part of worship. We are to make a “sacrifice” of thanks and praise to God (Ps. 50:23; II6:17; Heb. 13:15), which certainly suggests that such gratitude is not always spontaneous or easy. Paul insists that it is not just for the obviously good things, or in the obviously fortunate circumstances, that we are to thank God: “We must always give thanks to God” (2 Thess. 2:13); “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18); “[give] thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything” (Eph. 5:  20).

…We must come to see that [all] of our experience[s] are real and discernable, and full of meaning: full, in fact, of God….We are usually willing to find God in, and be grateful to God for, obvious blessings. We may need practice to see that God’s presence … gives meaning and hope to even the darkest and most difficult times.

…The third, most precious gift of a habit of gratitude…is to realize that…there is nothing outside the realm of God’s mercy, that everything is grace, that “there is faithfulness at the heart of all things.”(1)…For Christians, it offers an opportunity to deepen our intimacy with God, to focus our awareness of ¾and trust in¾God present with us in love and faithfulness; inseparably, at all times and in all places.

1 David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (New York: Paulist, 1984), 102, quoting Oscar Cullmann.




3 Responses to “Thanks Be to God: Gratitude as Prayer”

  1. Robin Pippin says:

    Thank you, Deborah, for these thoughts that mirror my own as I launch into a new year determined to be aware of the many specific things I have to be grateful for!

  2. These are thought provoking in the best sense of the phrase. Thank you from Hicksville.

  3. Gail Churchill says:

    A young man who has been lifted in prayer is starting a new stage in life at a college, in the ROTC program, and it is basically paid for! Who would’ve thunk it? I am grateful for this, particularly as I reflect on events of the past. God is good all the time. Thanks be to God! There is hope for all the others!

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