A wave of discouragement rushed over me, as I walked out of the doctor’s office. News of another health issue left me down and discouraged. I felt tired of following the breadcrumb trail. I wanted to be done with diagnoses, recommendations, feeling fatigued and in pain. The sadness lingered as I pulled myself out of bed the next morning. It was business as usual for this mom. The children needed me, whether I felt good or not.
As I pulled out of the driveway, I automatically transitioned into the ritual I practice on the way to school: praying in the van with my children.
It is a simple format: I begin, they follow with their special intentions, and we conclude with a few memorized prayers and an invocation of the saints to pray for us.
An attitude of gratitude is very important to me, and I strive to instill it in my children. One way I do this is by modeling thanksgiving in prayer. In those few moments on the way to school, I thank God for the countless blessings in our lives. I even thank Him for the unexpected, like rainy days and windy weather, because I truly want my children to recognize that everything in life comes from God.
On that particular morning, when I was still feeling overwhelmed about my health, I recognized my need to thank and praise God more than ever. I don’t remember the specifics of my prayer that day, but I do remember feeling lighter when I finished. My anxiety subsided, and a breath of hope filled my heart.
Thanksgiving Day is exactly two weeks away. It is one of my favorite holidays, because we have the opportunity to focus our attention on the blessings and gifts that fill our hearts and homes. But why wait until Thanksgiving Day to offer a prayer of gratitude? Why not cultivate a month of thanksgiving all November long? (And possibly beyond?)
Here are four simple ideas to inspire gratitude, as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving:
Keep a list. Every day, jot down three, five or more things you are grateful for. Keep them in a journal on your nightstand, in order to form this into a daily habit. St. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged reviewing each day with gratitude, as part of his daily examen prayer. Consider extending this practice after Thanksgiving Day and doing it year-round.
Involve the family. Invite the entire family to keep a gratitude list in a prominent spot in your home, leading up to Thanksgiving. In years past, my family has made a Thanksgiving tree and written blessings on hand-cut leaves. We also have used the chalkboard in our kitchen to keep an ongoing list. What is special about this tradition is that your family’s list becomes a focal point for your Thanksgiving-Day décor.
Read aloud together. Stories are a wonderful way to illustrate a message. Consider investing in a few books that highlight the theme of gratitude. Make some cider, curl up under blankets and enjoy some family reading time, which will certainly spark some thoughtful conversation about thankfulness. A few of my family’s favorite Thanksgiving-themed books are An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott, Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes, and Over the River and Through the Wood based on the traditional song by L. Maria Child.
Set aside time for prayer. On Thanksgiving Day, carve out time to attend Mass. What better way to begin the holiday than by offering our thanksgiving to God at Mass? Another idea is to add a mini prayer service to your family gathering. For several years, my family has used “A Thanksgiving Day Grace” that is published in Magnficat. We have even been known to sing a verse or two of “Now Thank We All Our God”! Another source for Thanksgiving Day prayers is American Catholic.
Jesus told St. Faustina: “Be grateful for the smallest of My graces, because your gratitude compels Me to grant you new graces.”
As I lifted my heart in thanksgiving to God that morning in the van, perhaps the lightness that I felt was a new grace being bestowed upon me, in order to endure the bumpy road to health on which God has placed me. We are, after all, invited to “offer to God the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving,” in Psalm 49.
My gratitude on that sad morning certainly refocused my attention toward the Giver of all grace, and at that moment, my heaviness was changed to hope. Poet John Milton said it well: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
Copyright 2015, Sarah Damm.