November 2010

Thank You!

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you’, that would suffice.”  These words were written by Meister Eckhart a long time ago, but they are timeless.  Eckhart was born in 1260 and died in 1329.  He was a Dominican educator, mystic, and activist; and if all he left behind of his whole life and teaching were just these words, they would suffice!

            There are many forms and ways of prayer.  When I was a high school student in Sunday School, we were taught the ACTS structure for our prayers.  A – Adoration; C – Confession; T – Thanksgiving; S – Supplication.  I still think this is a really helpful way to approach our movement in prayer before God.  You can see this structure reflected in a number of Biblical prayers, and it underlies most services of worship.  At the same time, as I get older, I sense more and more the truth of Eckhart’s words.  There is adoration and confession and supplication within the heart that most deeply gives thanks to God.  It is our failure to live from a thankful heart that Paul singles out as humankind’s most fundamental sin.

            When we stop to think about it, we have a lot for which to be thankful.  The problem is, we don’t stop to think about it, not often enough and not deeply enough.  As with most things that are good for us, it probably comes down to intentionality.  We all know how easy it is to develop bad habits, and how hard it is to establish good ones!  Such is our nature.

            How can we cultivate intentionality in this area?  I am sure there must be many ways in which people cultivate thankfulness in their lives.  One that was introduced to me, that I have found particularly helpful, is a “Gratitude Journal”.  I know a number of people who use this and have found it a really fruitful way to grow more grateful hearts.  The idea is to take a few moments at the end of each day to reflect on all that has happened, and to try to identify 10 things (or some number of your own choosing) for which you can give thanks that day.  That’s not so hard, is it?  The hard part is to make it a habit, to do it every day (or nearly so).  Perhaps another hard part is to identify the more significant items, and not to rush through superficially.  Then too, if you do it daily, there is a risk that you may list the same things over and over.  The growth challenge would be to find new things to list for which you give thanks.  Growth might also draw us into giving thanks for things that are difficult, even painful.  Stopping to write ten thanksgivings every day may well expand our hearts, strengthen our faith, and deepen our joy.  Knowing that we will be making a list at the end of the day, cultivates our watchfulness, our awareness, as we move through the day.

            Now you might say, “I can do that in my head, I don’t need to write it down or keep a journal.”  That might be true, but I encourage you to write them down anyway.  There are added blessings in the process of writing.  Educators tell us that there are many modes for learning, for example through the ears, or through the eyes.  We can also learn though movement.  The act of writing then involves our hands and our eyes as well as our minds.  The act of writing slows us down as well, so that what we have time to experience the gratitude about which we are thinking and writing.  Writing often takes on a life of its own, and we may find ourselves writing things that we had not yet thought.  The written list evolves over time, and the Gratitude Journal becomes a history of God’s goodness in your life.  In times of difficulty, such a journal can be a source of great encouragement and strength as you read back through it.

            If this is something that you have done or are doing now, I hope you will share that with us by commenting at the blog on our website (http://unitedchurchofspringvalley.org).  If you haven’t tried this, I hope you will.  Give it some time.  Try it for a month, a thirty-day experiment.  See if it turns out to be a source of blessing to you.  Remember Eckhart’s words and put them to the test:  “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you’, that would suffice.”

Comments

Gratitude

One of the most "fruitful" things I have ever done was to begin a gratitude journal some years ago. As time went by I found myself observing more and more of the world around me and becoming more aware of others in the process. My list of things to name grew, sometimes more slowly than others, but still it grew. Some days I could not think of anything to be grateful for so I just wrote Thank You over and over. The mere act of writing it caused my heart to melt and I found myself feeling grateful. In turn, my spiritual life grew by leaps and bounds. Now I sometimes don't write as often, but I have discoverd that when I am upset and depressed, I sit down and start writing thank you for simple things and before I know it I have filled a whole page and my heart has filled with joy. So, I certainly recommend this to anyone who wants to be happy. It really is hard to be unhappy when one's heart is full of gratitude. A side benefit is your heart fills and overflows with love.  RA