“What a grueling two days it’s been… Can I even give thanks for the pain and struggle?”
Even now, almost twenty years after writing those words, the difficulty of that time comes back to me. It felt as if everything was crashing down around me, leaving me exhausted, fearful, and uncertain of who I was and what I was doing. To this day, I credit my gratitude journal for saving my life.
A gift from a group of friends before Ron and I relocated for a job, I drew it out as an experiment. I already kept a daily journal so I wasn’t sure how much use I would make of this new one. After getting settled, I decided to start keeping a gratitude journal on the first Sunday of Advent as a way to move through the quiet beauty of the liturgical season. Each day, after writing in my regular journal, I entered a couple of lines about something for which I was grateful. As the season progressed and then morphed into a new calendar year, life became more stressful and our circumstances became more tenuous. Practicing gratitude became a lifeline towards sanity and tethered me to hope.
Several years later, I pulled the journal out again. This time I read through the entries and made new ones in the margins. Evidence of grace emerged on every page. What I could not see at the time was how much I was guided through those dark days by the love and mercy of God. My question was answered. I could indeed give thanks for the pain and the struggle.
Brother David Steindl-Rast has written extensively on gratitude as a spiritual practice. The key to developing a grateful heart, he notes, is an openness to surprise. This may come in those sweet bursts of color and delight that appear without warning as we make our way through the day. More subtle are the surprising ways we survive something traumatic or muddle through a damaging patch in our lives. This makes the practice of gratitude both an art and a discipline. The latter entails a regular regimen that cultivates a grateful mind, such as keeping a journal or practicing daily meditation. The art lies in nourishing awareness to surprises that can occur at any time or place. Gratitude then becomes a spiritual lifeline, connecting us to the divine in ways we never thought possible.
Visit Brother David Steindl-Rast’s website, gratefulness.org, to find multiple resources on how to make gratitude a spiritual practice in your own life and in that of your family or parish.
Begin the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. Look for the evidence of grace admist even your most challenging days.
Gratitude shares the same root word as that of grace. Download a reflection on “Amazing Grace” as a way to cultivate gratefulness for the working of God’s grace in your life.