“How is your prayer life?” sounds like a simple enough question but it can be surprisingly difficult to answer. It is an invitation to think about the time we take to talk with God, and to consider where we are in our relationship with God at this moment in our lives.
For those of us who cultivate an active spiritual life, prayer is an objective reality. It is the dialogue between our innermost selves and our God. It takes place in the briefest moments throughout our day, or unfolds for hours at a time.
Prayer is a conscious and personal communication with the God of the universe, so a better question than “how’s your prayer life?” might be, “have I been enjoying mindful communion with God throughout my day?”
To answer that question, it helps me to take some time and consider where I’m at, in my relationship with God. Has it become little more than a box to check off my busy schedule, or an abstract notion that isn’t grounded in my daily life, or a place I only go when I am desperate and in need?
Prayer does not need to be complicated or difficult. In fact, over the past year, my prayer time has been radically simplified. It has become all about three things – gratitude, listening, and letting go. I will share these three elements in more detail over my next few contributions, beginning with the importance of gratitude.
Has prayer become little more than a box to check off my busy schedule?
Cicero said that gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, it is the parent of all the others. The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. In a very real way, gratitude means coming into contact with the grace that fills our lives.
Gratitude means being thankful for all that we receive, both tangibly and intangibly, throughout our day. Being grateful reminds us that the source of goodness and grace lies at least partially outside of ourselves, helping us connect to something larger. Moreover, in psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater levels of wellbeing.
During our prayer time, we can feel wellbeing in multiple ways. Gratitude can help us to make peace with our past, by being thankful for elements of our childhood or past blessings. It grounds us in the present moment, by not taking things for granted, and the future, by maintaining an attitude of hope.
Gratitude can transform common days into celebrations. It turns our work into an opportunity for joy, and our ordinary moments into blessings. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, thereby unlocking the fullness of life.
Sitting with God and expressing gratitude will turn what we have, right here and now, into enough – it stops the little critical voice inside us, which is always hungry for more. Unfortunately, our consumerist culture encourages that angry voice, which is never satisfied with what we have, with where we are going, or with who we are.
Gratitude can transform common days into celebrations
Gratitude interrupts the flow of negativity by turning denial into acceptance. It introduces harmony into the chaos of our thoughts. It can transform the simplest meal into a feast, and reveal a stranger to be an angel in disguise.
I remember being in church one day and listening to the Sanctus, when we proclaim “Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory.” What is the community of heaven saying in that moment? By expressing God’s glory, it is also offering an essential and inexhaustible prayer of thanksgiving.
When we give ourselves the time, during our prayer, to participate in this sense of gratitude for the struggles and the triumphs of our day, we are joining the holy chorus. We are not praying alone or in isolation. We are united with the Church, as one community of faith, lifting up our day to be transformed into something sacred.
So there is no better way to begin our prayers than with the simplest act of thanks, by showing our gratitude for all that we have and for all that we are. Prayer is our response to God’s presence in our lives. I believe that the most authentic response we can make, to God’s first step towards us, is a deep and heartfelt “thank you”.