Practices of gratitude make every day Thanksgiving
It’s that time of the year, when Americans post gratitude lists to social media and share what they’re thankful for with the family over dinner. But giving thanks is also an important everyday practice.
The young family of Lewis and Angela Pearson of Fort Wayne starts and ends every meal with prayers of thanksgiving, and the things they are thankful for are also among their prayer throughout and at the end of each day, Lewis said.
The seven Pearson children range in age from 2-month-old Mary to 11-year-old Samuel. They are encouraged by their parents to “talk to our brothers and sisters in the communion of saints,” and to thank God for giving them the hosts of holy men and women like Pope St. John Paul II, Raphael the Archangel, St. Lucy and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The family also says bedtime prayers together, and every verbal member gets to participate. Four-year-old Lewis Jr. typically prays, “Thank you for Mom and Dad, Amen.”
The older children, Lewis said, “are usually more focused on the providential moment at hand, regularly thanking God for the day we just had … or the playground we just went to, or the show we got to watch on TV that day.”
The St. John the Baptist parishioners also encourage external expressions of gratitude toward others on this side of eternity. Instead of waiting for Christmas, they may purchase small gifts for family and friends when they see something the person might like.
“And our kids — the six out of seven who can hold a pen — write thank-you letters just about every week. We also send probably more than our fair share of letters to local establishments,” Lewis said.
He bets their letters and artwork are probably on restaurant refrigerators from the coast of Oregon to central Texas, in addition to the Fort Wayne area.
For some, private moments of prayer offer the best time to take stock of the moments or people for which someone is grateful.
Father Royce Gregerson, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Goshen, said he makes gratitude part of his daily prayer. “One practice that I have is to make gratitude for the Lord’s blessing a part of my evening examination of conscience.”
Justin Aquila of Most Precious Blood Parish in Fort Wayne recalls the moment he realized making gratitude part of his daily prayer was important.
“A few years ago, I read a quote from Dorothy Day. She was asked toward the end of her life why she didn’t write a memoir.” Day responded that she started to think back and consider how to begin. “I try to think back; I try to remember this life that the Lord gave me; the other day I wrote down the words ‘a life remembered’ and I was going to try to make a summary for myself, write what mattered most — but I couldn’t do it. I just sat there and thought of our Lord, and His visit to us all those centuries ago, and I said to myself that my great luck was to have had Him on my mind for so long in my life.”
Aquila said that after reading the quote, he was moved to begin his daily prayer with “an inventory of things I was grateful for that day and in my life in general. This fundamentally changed my prayer life from a lot of listing of needs to a spirit-led focus on gratitude. I still pray for what I need, but only after I first pray in gratitude for what I received.”
He said this shift in his prayer life has been helpful in his work with Campus Ministry at the University of Saint Francis.
“As I mentor students in prayer, I encourage them to do the same. Often, for those who don’t have much experience with prayer, it’s a very practical first step they can take as they grow in the school of prayer.”
Prayer journals also can provide a means for intentionally expressing gratitude. Janet Abbott of Immaculate Conception Parish in Kendallville received a prayer journal for a birthday gift, and it has inspired her prayers of gratitude.
She keeps a list of the people for whom she has promised prayers. “Many times we say, ‘I am praying for you.’ This journal gives me a place to write my prayer requests and keep them fresh in my mind. It often prompts me to give that person a call to check on them or offer encouragement.”
Writing in the journal, she said, gives her a place to refer to her prayer requests “and see the grace and glory of God in action as I record my answered prayers, often in astounding and unexpected ways. This is a wonderful chance to count His blessings and express my gratitude.”
Abbott said she also records “praises” to recall “all the random things I am grateful for that week that I didn’t even have to ask for: the beautiful weather, special time with family, safe travels, wonderful people God has put in my life and the lives of my children.”
Mary Kay Helmkamp of St. Joseph Parish in LaGrange finds gratitude in nature.
“I’ve been a grateful observer of nature my entire life. I have always been that person who stops to listen to the birds or watch one of God’s creatures in action.”
For others, gratitude becomes prayer in action. Tim Bir of St. Mary Parish in Huntington was widowed suddenly 4 1/2 years ago, when his wife Jody went to the hospital for a heart procedure and developed complications.
Bir said it would have been easy to become bitter and reclusive after the devastating loss. “But I thank God for having had her every day.”
And every day he fulfills his mission of gratitude by helping someone. “If I’m not out and about, I miss an opportunity.”
Bir not only lives and prays his gratitude but evangelizes it as well. “I might be in a fast-food restaurant, and I’ll speak to someone about being thankful.”
Those conversations included a couple who were preparing to go on a mission trip, and “we prayed together for their mission.”
The Magnavox retiree said he is grateful for the gift of time to be able to listen to people, or to give a person an unexpected gift. “It’s important to let God love others through you.”
Sister Anita Holzmer of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration said she learned one of her gratitude practices while serving as a missionary in Honduras.
“Whenever someone tells me something that amounts to an answered prayer, or whenever I’m telling another about an answered prayer, I say, ‘Thanks be to God’ aloud so the other can join me in thanking God.”
The people in Honduras were “exceedingly poor, and I had actually experienced the poverty of some of their homes,” she said. But no matter how poor they were, “‘Thanks be to God’ (‘Gracias a Dios’) was always on their lips. This was a real lesson to me, coming from a country where, by comparison, we have everything we need and much of what we want.”
St. Charles Borromeo parishioner Tricia Bugaski said she brings gratitude practice into her professional life as well as her personal prayer.
In addition to writing out three things that she is grateful for every day, she practices gratitude when negativity enters her thoughts or a conversation. “I require myself to list five things I am grateful for when I say something negative about myself or my life.”
The practice, she said, “has been a very big help in my life — I might even say a game-changer for me.”
In her job at the University of Saint Francis, she has extended the idea to her colleagues.
“At least once a month, I’ll start a meeting with everyone going around the table and saying what they are grateful for instead of using a rote prayer.” One result has been that it begins meetings on a positive note.
Each person said adding gratitude to their daily prayer has made a difference in how they live not just at Thanksgiving, but in every season of the year.
What the saints say about gratitude …
“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.”
— St. Gianna Beretta Molla
“Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.”
— St. John Paul II
“Worry is a weakness from which very few of us are entirely free. We must be on guard against this most insidious enemy of our peace of soul. Instead, let us foster confidence in God, and thank Him ahead of time for whatever He chooses to send us.”
— Blessed Solanus Casey
“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has, and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.”
— St. John Chrysostom
“Jesus does not demand great action from us but simply surrender and gratitude.”
— St. Therese of Lisieux
“In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.”
— St. Teresa of Avila
“Get used to lifting your heart to God, in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day. Because he gives you this and that. Because you have been despised. Because you haven’t what you need or because you have. … Thank him for everything, because everything is good.”
— St. Josemaria Escriva
“The best way to show my gratitude is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.”
— St. Teresa of Kolkata
“O my God, let me remember with gratitude and confess to thee thy mercies toward me.”
— St. Augustine of Hippo
“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.”
— St. Ambrose
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