“Pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks…” (1Thessalonians 5:17). Was Paul for real? Is it even possible to pray without ceasing? To give thanks for everything? I believe he was deeply sincere in writing these words. What’s more, I think he was right on target, especially when it comes to giving thanks for everything in our lives.
I learned this the hard way, by keeping a gratitude journal for a year. What seemed at first blush to be a sweet little exercise soon turned into a monumental task as the year unfolded in deeply painful ways. I lost my job. We had to sell a home we had only owned for ten months, thereby losing a great deal of money. I had to let go of our son as he headed off to college in New York, and yank our daughter out of yet another school in order to move once again. On top of it all, I was still grieving a loss in our family. Finding something for which to be grateful each day became a huge challenge.
Looking back, I now consider that year as one of the most grace-filled of my life. It was difficult, to be sure, but the loss of my job put me on a path back into ministry and eventually into my current role with Sadlier as a writer and consultant. I saw our son and daughter graduate in due time, knowing that we had given them our full support despite the difficulties we faced as a family. And grief eventually gave way to peace as I recognized the many gifts that emerged from our loss.
In one of my journal reflections, I wrote about the way gratitude can spring from the most difficult circumstances. “Essentially I don’t believe gratitude that is sincere, that is heartfelt, can come on its own. It really must find its deepest roots in the pain and suffering of life. Only the drowning person can truly be grateful for the gift of air.”
This Thanksgiving, I have so much for which to be grateful. Life continues to present challenges, which I tackle in uneven ways. I take Paul at his word. Giving thanks for everything is a grace-full way to live.
Here are three ways to “give thanks for everything:”
Engage your children or students in a game of gratitude. Give them one minute to come up with five things they have seen or experienced that day for which they are grateful. Talk about the diversity of responses, and how they trigger more ways to give thanks.
Start a gratitude journal as a family or class. Before saying grace or beginning your class prayer, compile the entries for the day. At the end of a week or a month, read the entries aloud. Give thanks for the many reasons to give thanks!