Gratitude Is Really A Kind Of Prayer
Wednesday - April 04, 2007
With Good Friday approaching and Easter next Sunday, the season of Lent is coming to an end. Normally we might be looking forward to that because of our tendency to “give up” something for Lent, and the end of the season means we can start drinking coffee again, or eating dessert, or resume whatever we might have given up.
The alternative to giving up something, i.e. exercising old-fashioned self-denial “because it’s good for you,” is doing something positive that you don’t normally do and which can also be good for you, or better yet, which could be the beginning of a new positive habit. And that is what I ventured to do this Lenten season. This switch from denial (taking away) to allowance (adding something) was also consistent with a promise I made to myself during our church’s recent annual men’s retreat, the theme of which was “The Real Deal,” or how a Christian man can live a more “Godly” life; obviously not how a man can be more godlike, but how a man can live his life closer to God in the things that he says, the decisions he makes and the values he embraces. Or in contemporary terms WWJD - what would Jesus do? I had promised myself to try to live closer to God.
So this Lenten season I have been spending the first half hour of each day reading from a book about prayer and gratitude, Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer by Brother David Steindl-Rast. My son, Steve, who recommended the book, had read it during his three years of study in the seminary. Although he determined the priesthood was not for him, he still came out a very “Godly” man.
In his book, Steindl-Rast asserts, in effect, that all gratitude is prayer. In the Bible, when Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” we can assume he doesn’t mean that literally, i.e. kneeling, hands clasped, head bowed. Although, recalling the darkest of my POW days, there are definitely times for that form of conscious, intense, direct communication with God. Steindl-Rast points out that communion with God is different from communication with God, the former being best achieved through gratitude. Each day most of us are surrounded by such opportunities - the laughter of our grandchildren, the surprise of a butterfly’s curiosity, the comfort of a hot shower after a hard day, the tender touch of a loved one, the sight of an American flag billowing in the trades, or a vivid anuenue symbolizing the unique beauty of this tropical Eden in which we live. We can be grateful for our unique abilities and inclination to contribute positively to the people and society around us, and grateful for a loving God to turn to at will.
But my personal experience has also taught me to embrace the blessings - yes, blessings - of hardship, adversity and even pain. On the one hand, we don’t wish misfortune on anyone, but on the other hand, we can feel sorry for a person who never experiences the downside of life (an oxymoron?) because the deeper the valleys the higher the peaks. What is joy without sadness, success without failure, comfort without pain, hope without despair or faith without fear?
Life is a gift worthy of our gratitude, but life without difficulty is only half the gift. Only when we are as grateful for the inevitable difficulties as we are for the happiness and joy are we experiencing life at its fullest. With this thought I harken back to my most significant moment as a POW, the moment when my prayers changed from “Why me, God?” to “Show me God; show me what I’m supposed to do with this.” And he did!
So this Lenten season I’ve had my coffee and learned something too. Thanks, son!
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