Friendship, Listening, and Empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Creative prayer: Joy spot sightings

Lynne Baab • Thursday April 11 2019

Creative prayer: Joy spot sightings

Choosing habits that nurture thankfulness has changed my life. I always found it easy to see needs, and even as a young adult I was a champion intercessory pray-er. I struggled with depression for 16 years of my early adult life, so I had a lot of practice in seeing the half-empty part of the glass.

Twenty-five years ago, Dave and I decided we would always begin our prayer times together with some thankfulness prayers. We made that decision because, at that time, life was filled with challenges. Our prayer times, a couple of times a week at bedtime, were filled with “help me with this” and “give us that.” We came away from our prayer times feeling discouraged because we had named so much pain.

Focusing on thankfulness for a few moments a couple times a week was so helpful that within a year or two, I decided to try to start every prayer time of my own with prayers of thankfulness. Soon after that I suggested to my women’s prayer group that we begin our prayer times with thankfulness. (I describe this personal journey in more detail in a blog post here.)

Even today, almost every time I ask God for something (which I do many times each day), I also thank God for something. This practice of thankfulness, over and over, has been one of the great gifts of my life. I still can easily see the half-empty portion of the glass, and I am still deeply committed to intercessory prayer, but I am so much more aware of the gifts God gives each day. I am so much more present to God’s abundant blessings and mercy. I am happier.

I’m always looking for new ways to engage in thankfulness prayers. My friend Kimberlee Conway Ireton keeps a numbered list, and she has often posted parts of her list on her blog. Here’s the post where she gets to 2000. She got that idea from Ann Voscamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. Making a list like Kimberlee does simply hasn’t worked in a major way for me. I do it from time to time in my journal, but the heart of my thankfulness prayers is their link to my intercessory prayers, which often come in settings where I can’t write something down.

Christine Sine has a chapter on thankfulness in her helpful new book, The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God. Be sure to notice the subtitle of her book. For me, consistent thankfulness prayers have truly helped me grow in delighting in God and God’s gifts.

Christine describes a friend of hers who uses the term “joy spot” to describe something that makes her smile. This friend and her husband decided to watch for “joy spot sightings” during the day and call them out to each other. This habit grew into a daily thankfulness time in the morning and a desire to find more joy spots during the day. Christine’s friend noted, “We grew expectant” (p. 144).

I love the notion of watching for things that make me smile and giving them a name – joy spots. I’m going to try using that vocabulary to see how it works. Anyone like me who innately sees the glass half empty needs to grow in paying attention to smiles.

In her chapter on thankfulness, Christine mentions something else worth noting. Thankfulness builds on itself, like a spiral upward. I have experienced this, and so have Christians throughout the ages. Christine writes, “As we express gratitude, we become more grateful and start to realize that all we have is indeed a gift from God” (p. 141).

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Psalm 107: 1, 2).

(Next week: Creative prayer using the imagination. Illustration by Dave Baab.)

Some previous posts about thankfulness on this blog:

     Why optimism and thankfulness are not the same thing
     Five favorite quotations about thankfulness              
     The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things              
     Thomas Merton on our transparent world               
     A thankfulness challenge – reframing events in your mind and in your prayers               
     Another thankfulness challenge – why thankfulness matters               

Here's one of my all-time favorite posts on this blog, expressing my thankfulness for a cat we had when our son was young: A cat with a noble character. When I re-read it today, I got tears in my eyes. Thank you, God, for your gifts small and big, human and animal.

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