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

Growing in thankfulness

Lynne Baab • Wednesday January 21 2015

Growing in thankfulness

Just over twenty years ago my husband and I began a habit that has changed the way we pray individually, with each other and in groups. At that turning-point moment, we decided to try to begin every prayer time with a few prayers of thankfulness.

At that time, Dave and I usually prayed together before bedtime a couple of times each week, and we had begun to notice that our prayers seemed repetitive, boring, and often desperate. It was a stressful time. Dave was deeply unhappy at his work. Our kids had entered adolescence, and we were baffled and frustrated by their increasingly challenging behavior. I had finished a seminary degree and was a candidate for ordination as a Presbyterian minister, but I basically still didn’t have a clear idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Dave and I began our thankfulness experiment. Some nights all we could manage was to thank God that we had food on the table and that the four of us were healthy.

A year went by, then another year. Our prayers of thankfulness blossomed even though my husband’s work situation became worse, our teenagers baffled us more than ever, and I experienced no resolution of my job questions. We were amazed by how many things we could notice for which we wanted to thank God: friends, extended family, our neighborhood, bursting flowers in the spring, colorful leaves in the fall, a comfortable home. Answers to prayer.

The specifics of daily life became more visible to us as manifestations of God’s care. We had always been thankful for food on the table each day, but now many more aspects of our life seemed to flow from the hands of a gracious and generous God.

We became more aware of what we had been missing in all those years of prayer times that were packed with our needs and wants. We simply hadn’t noticed God’s good gifts to us. Looking back, we felt a bit ashamed of the “give me this, give me that” orientation of our prayers before we began our experiment.

I began to pray more thankfulness prayers as a part of my own personal prayers. And I began to experience frustration when I prayed with others. I was an elder in my congregation, so I attended session meetings every month and one or two committee meetings in between. At our church, all committee meetings ended with a time of conversational prayer, and I began to notice how quickly the committee members dived into making requests of God.

I found myself thinking, This is the maker of the universe we are addressing! The giver of every good gift in our lives! And we have the audacity to come into the presence of this generous and gracious God without acknowledging our gratitude and our dependence? We launch right into a list of requests. What kind of brats behave like this? I got angry so many times in meetings that I finally began to take initiative. When the leader of the meeting would say, “Let’s spend some time in prayer,” I would immediately chime in, “Could we please begin with some prayers of thankfulness?” It became clear to me that in committees and other groups, we were able to see God’s hand in our midst more clearly when we regularly set aside time to notice God’s gifts and blessings.

Prayers of thankfulness enable us to see what God has been doing and where God has been working. Prayers of thankfulness help us to notice the specifics of God’s work and the patterns of God’s goodness in our lives and the lives of others. Prayers of thankfulness make us stop and look. We are missing so much of God’s work in the world because we don’t notice and because we don’t express our thanks.

Lent, which begins February 18 this year, is a great time to try new spiritual practices, and a new pattern of thankfulness prayers might be a lovely thing to try this year. To think about options for Lent, you might enjoy an article I wrote on “small” spiritual practices. The article has lots of practical ideas: Small Habits, Big Benefits.

(If you’d like to receive an email whenever I put a new post on this blog, please sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)

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