Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Simple Prayer of Gratitude for God's Presence

The entrance to the limestone Benedictine Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, where I studied to become a spiritual director, has two words engraved in the stone above the door, "Seek God." I've kept these two words close in mind through the years when I have needed guidance as well as when I had reason to celebrate.

Not too long ago, I was faced with several days of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. I awakened each morning with fatigue wondering how I would make it through the day. I sought God in the early hours of each new day, asking for an opening of my heart so I could enter God's presence in a way that would give me grounding and strength.

Leaning against the dresser in my bedroom, yearning with desire to enter fully the adventures of the day ahead, God responded by filling my heart with energy to sustain and keep me alert to encounters and interactions that would happen as the day evolved.

My response to God in those moments, still leaning against the dresser, was a prayer reflecting my gratitude, with the assurance of God's participation in my life - even when my awareness wanders.

                         Thank you, God, for hearing my prayer.

                         Thank you, God, for knowing my heart.

                         Thank you, God, for your love.


Prayer: God, these are simple words you gave me, a letter of gratitude, defining how you are with us, always. In our seeking, whatever our circumstance, joyful or challenging, we have reminders of your presence and you know our hearts even before we come to you. In your goodness, you sustain and celebrate our path each day. Amen.

Monday, November 11, 2019

My First Experience Receiving Gratitude

I saw John and his mother walk to the side of the swimming pool where the lessons began. He clung to his mother with both hands, his face speaking the language neither needed to say. John was scared.

I was 16 years old, teaching swimming lessons at a neighborhood pool. For the first session, which lasted a week, another teenager and I were assigned a group of five, four-year-old children.

Four children gathered, sitting on the edge of the pool kicking their legs, eager to jump in and learn the basics of swimming. John stood behind the group, gripping his mother's hand, wanting no part of swim lessons.

Realizing he needed individual attention, I said to my colleague, "Let me take John. The other children are ready to get into the water."

His intense fear of the water stirred compassion and sadness in me and a desire to help. John clung to his mother most of the first day. Nothing I did or said convinced him to release his bond. Finally, I reached both of my hands to this frightened four-year-old and with great courage he took one of my hands, and then the other, still standing close to his mother, but inching closer to the side of the pool.

By the end of the first class, John, stepped tentatively - always holding my hand - to the edge of the pool where he sat, dangling his legs. A  small triumph compared with the other children already bobbing their heads and dipping under water, but a triumph nonethelest!

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Morning

Tuesday morning we began again sitting on the edge of the pool, playing with the water and talking.

By Wednesday, John slipped into the waist-high water and with increasing confidence jumped and played, copying the activity of the other children.

Toward the end of Wednesday's class, he bent over and put his face in the  water. I clapped, his mother, watching from the side clapped, and John emerged from the water with a huge smile on his face.

Thursday John jumped in the pool, put his face under water and joined the class as they learned to float and kick. By the end of the morning, John had caught up with the other children. He was using a kickboard propelling himself across the pool. He kept his head under water, but when he turned his head to get a breath of air, he was grinning from ear to ear!

Friday, with all of the children together, we taught them arm movements for the freestyle swimming stroke. They stood in the water practicing and before the session ended there were five new swimmers in Columbus, Ohio.

My First Gratitude

When John's mother came to pick him up on Friday, she carried an aluminum pan covered with foil.

"Thank you so much," she said, smiling, handing me the pan.

Lifting the lid, I saw a stack of brownies. My mother never made these delicious treats. I'd heard about them, but never tasted one. Now I had a whole pan all to myself!!

"Oh, thank you so much. I'm proud of John!" I replied, equally pleased with her son's progress.

This mother taught me I could receive someone's concerns and then serve as an agent of change in a little boy's life. The plate of homemade brownies, a tangible expression of a mother's gratitude for my work with her child, was an unexpected surprise.

The impact of her kindness remains with me 55 years later.

Questions for Reflection

1. When was the first time you remember receiving gratitude? Describe your experience.

2. How did this first experience encourage you to offer gratitude to others?

3. How do you maintain an awareness of gratitude all year, not just during November?

Prayer: God, I thank you for this mother's kindness to me. A new world of gratitude opened in my heart that day. Help me be your agent of thanks to all I encounter and an initiator of appreciation.
Guide me in these ways to spread gratitude wherever I go. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Gratitude All Year

Once again we are entering that time of year when we are encouraged to remember our blessings and give thanks. I've noticed, however, that I am reminded year round to give thanks and value the offering gratitude.

Benefits of Gratitude

Derrick Carpenter in his article "The Science Behind Gratitude and How It Can Change Your Life" notes those who have a regular practice of acknowledging those thing for which they are grateful,

     - experience more positive emotions,
     - feel more alive,
     - sleep better
     - express more compassion and kindness,
     - have stronger immune systems,
     -  have increased life satisfaction.

He continues that expressing gratitude eah day can be as simple as writing down a few words and putting the paper in a gratitude jar.

Write It Down

A feature in the Wellness section of TIME magazine (October 2, 2017) "New Ways to Become Healthier and Happier," suggests, "Write a thank you note; reflecting on a friend's impact can brighten your day and theirs," and "Jot down what you're grateful for.  Doing so has been linked to greater feelings of happiness."

Five Things to Smile About Each Month

The popular "O" magazine, Oprah's publication, features a whole page in each issue called "The Gratitude Meter." In the middle of the page is a circle with the phrae, "Five thing we're smiling about this month." An arrow points to a paragraph that describes the gratitude represented in each photo.

We don't have to write for Oprah to do the same, finding at least five things to smile about each month.

Gratitude Alphabet

One of my favorite bloggers, Amanda Blake Soule (Soule Mama) has a new book that came out a few years ago called The Creative Family Manifesto: Encouraging Imagination and Nurturing Family Connections. She devotes one chapter to gratitude and suggests trying a gratitude alphabet. "Write each letter of the alphabet on a large piece of paper and then decide something for which we are grateful corresponding to the letter."

Children and adults can enjoy this activity. Using the gratitude alphabet at various times of the year nurtures an awareness of thanksgiving.

Cooking Gratitude

Lilly Burana wrote "Cooking Up Gratitude" in the July/August, 2016, issue of Women's Day, describing how cooking a meal for her family used to be a chore she dreaded. One day while she was preparing a meal, she remembered that Sunday dinner at her grandmother's house meant wonderful comfort food.

She noted her grandmother "enjoyed cooking, her skills honed as the young, widowed mother of six."
Lilly remembered reading this poem on a plaque her grandmother had hanging above her sink"

     "Thank God for dirty dishes; they have a tale to tell.

      While others may go hungry, we're eating very well.

      With home, health, and happiness I shouldn't want to fuss;

      By the stack of evidence, God's been very good to us."

My Experience with Gratitude

I presented a talk last September to a group of clergy spouses about "Staying Together Through the Tough Times." One of my suggestions follows:

"Live with gratitude. Keep a list each day of things for which you are grateful. Gratitude offer a different perpective than reality - that all is not overwhelming and difficult. Gratitude enourages an awareness of God's presence, provision and faithfulness, and acknowledges goodness even when life is difficult."

The Gratitude Drawer

Eight years ago I went to an antique store in Noblesville, Indiana, and purchased for five dollars an old, narrow desk drawer, just the right size to hold a 4 x 6 index card cut in half. I stamped each day of the year at the top of the card. Underneath the date, I record a few words, my gratitude for that day. I look forward at the end of each day to reflect on the events, people or experiences I want to remember.

Every Day Throughout The Year

Making gratitude an everyday practice, not just in November when Thanksgiving is celebrated, can fill our hearts with God's abundant blessing. Try some of these ideas so that you might experience more positive emotions, sleep better, smile bigger and feel more alive.

For Your Reflection

1. How can you develop an awareness of those parts of everyday life for which you are grateful?
2. Writing in a journal or on index cards can be reminders of God's provision and goodness throughout the year. Try it!!

Prayer: Thank you, God, seems inadequate to describe the way you provide for us. We read numerous examples in the Old and New Testaments how persons in seemingly dire circumstances were given provisions to survive and thrive just like you do for us today. Guide our hearts to offer thanks to you for your generosity throughout our days. Amen.