You First Learned To Say “Thank You” When You Were a Toddler. Now You Can Pray It.

Once a month, a spiritual director from Seeking the Spirit Within offers a type of prayer you might like to try. This month, with Thanksgiving just a week away, we invite you to do some intentional Gratitude Prayers.

November 18, 2020
Rev. Carmala Aderman

Somebody in your life, when you were still a toddler, reminded you over and over, hundreds of times, to say, “Thank you.” 

“What do you say?” an adult in your life asked. 

“Tank oo,” you replied, developing an important habit for social interaction.

It’s still an important social skill. And a foundational prayer practice. 

The Bible reminds us to pray our gratitude

Consider, for example, 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.  Give thanks to the God of gods.  His love endures forever.  Give thanks to the Lord of lords; His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-2)   

Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  (Philippians 4:6) 

If a [person] had no more to do with God than to be thankful, that would suffice. 

Meister Eckhart, Sermon 27*

Those are just a few of the couple hundred times words similar to “thanks”,  “thankfulness”, and “give thanks” are used throughout our sacred scriptures. 

Meister Eckhart, the 13th century theologian preached it this way in his sermon on Philippians 4:4-6. (Verse 6 is above.)  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

That’s a strong–and simple–statement. 

In the busyness of our lives, we seldom stop to reflect on all the things we are–or could be–grateful for. Yet, there they are!

The easy everyday gratitudes include things we often take for granted. The ability to breathe. Fresh air to breathe. Clean water to drink. Food on the table if you’re not in the 20% of food-insecure children in the United State. Some degree of health. Maybe you have access to health care. Shelter over your head. A bed to sleep in. The ability to read.

Who are you grateful for in your life? What gifts and talents do you have that you can share with the world? Give thanks for them. What was a simple kindness someone offered you today? Yes, be grateful. 

Give thanks in difficult circumstances.

Sometimes, like in the midst of a pandemic and social tumult, we are challenged to be grateful for the difficult and painful experience in our lives. These are often the times we feel God’s presence most profoundly. Sometimes, those difficult experiences are what help our faith move to deeper levels and then our relationship with God is changed and strengthened. 

Choosing gratitude can also prevent us from choosing bitterness. The two don’t coexist very well. 

The spiritual practice of gratitude gives us an opportunity to pause throughout the day to reflect on our day, or our life, and give thanks to God for all of our blessings.

Rev. Carm Aderman, Graduate certified spiritual director

For example, consider our traditional Thanksgiving story. The Puritans landed on the shores of this new land in September. It was too late in the season to grow crops for the upcoming winter. They lost half their community to disease and starvation that winter. The following autumn, with new friends from the Wampanoag people who taught them how to survive, they had a great feast to give thanks to God for all the ways they had been cared for. 

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the nation would celebrate a day of Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November every year. 1863 was smack dab in the middle of our nation’s Civil War. What wisdom he had to call us to give thanks in the midst of such pain!

On a personal level, I don’t need to have cancer again. But, I have to admit,  it’s been one of my most important teachers. I am grateful for the experience. 

Being on the wrong end of a bizarre hit-and-run accident changed my life forever. I learned important lessons I would not have discovered otherwise. After a lot of work, I can say I am grateful for the experience. 

What challenges or difficulties are you thankful for? Maybe you are living it right now. Maybe it is one from your past. Gratitude changes what kind of power your suffering has. 

Praying our gratitude helps us reflect more deeply. 

The spiritual practice of gratitude gives us an opportunity to pause throughout the day to reflect on our day, or our life, and give thanks to God for all of our blessings. This practice also challenges us to move beyond the easy, quick, and obvious things that we are grateful for – knowing we are grateful for those things—but encourages us to move to a deeper place in our soul to look for the things we take for granted, the things we rush right past during the day, and the blessings God puts in our path all day long.   

As we think about gratitude, how often do we feel entitled to what we receive? How often do we take the credit for the good things that come our way? How often do we forget to show our thanks for the things people do for us each day? 

Consider these questions

Reflect on the following questions. If you keep a journal, you might want to write down your answer. 

√ What are some things that bring you great joy?

√ Who is the person who has most influenced your life?

√ What gift have you received you did not deserve?

√ What positive result in your life came from a challenging and difficult time in your life?

√ When have you most felt God’s presence in your life?

√ As you reflect back on your responses, what surprises did you find?

This reflective prayer practice helps us to be changed and transformed and to see all that we have to be grateful for in our lives. We begin to open ourselves to God’s presence at a deeper level, which gives us the courage and strength to look at ourselves honestly and fans a desire to allow God to do some refining in us.

It’s definitely a gift to be thankful for! 

Further questions to consider:

  1. How many times a day do you give thanks?
  2. What do you think about giving thanks for difficult experiences?
  3. What part of this prayer do you resist?

Write your thoughts in the comment section below. I look forward to reading them.

Rev. Carmala Aderman, Graduate Certified Spiritual Director

1The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart. Translated and Edited by Maurice Walshe. Herder & Herder Book. New York. 2009. Sermon 27. p 173.

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