Toward a Habit of Gratitude

folded hands

What kind of prayer expresses thanksgiving that is honest? Do I begin with my complaints and then end with words of praise and trust? Some of the psalms from the Bible follow that structure, so it must be OK. But is it enough simply to say, “Things are horrible, but I know that God is good, so I thank you, Lord, that you are watching over me”?

There’s probably more to it than that.

First, the complaints. If you’re going to gripe, you may as well be specific:

  • “OK, it’s really annoying that the same week this enormous gas bill arrives, the car must go to the shop.”
  • “Seriously? Someone has managed to use my credit card in Romania?”
  • “I take back every prayer for patience I’ve ever prayed! Heavenly Father, you have put so many exasperating people in my life—I don’t want patience that badly. Can I be just somewhat patient and not have to deal with all of these crazy relationships?”
  • “How long, Lord, must I ask for help with this mortgage? How long must I be without a decent job?”

Next, remember your history of grace:

  • “Four years ago, we thought my aunt would die of cancer, but she’s in remission.”
  • “That one time, out of nowhere I got this freelance job that helped us pay for the refrigerator we needed.”
  • “I’ve been depressed before, and I’ve been helped by family, friends, therapists, and doctors.”
  • “I’ll never forget the moment when I was looking at our little girl and was overwhelmed by the sense of God’s presence. I will never again doubt that God is here and loves us.”

Then, turn the complaints into requests:

  • “Lord, I can’t control the increase in utility rates, and I’ve taken good care of this car. Please help us cover these unforeseen expenses.”
  • “Help me calm down about the credit card and contact the bank—and help those professionals protect my account. Also, if the person who stole my information is desperate, help him or her get what he or she needs through means other than stealing.”
  • “Give me wisdom so that I can understand how much weight to give any particular conversation or event. Sometimes I panic and turn everything into a crisis. Or I feel that one person is taking advantage of me—so of course everyone else must be too.”
  • “If there is anything I should be doing about the mortgage that I’m not doing, please help me see it. If there are any job leads that I’ve missed, help me see those too. Please lead me to the right information and the right people.”

Finally, turn on the thanks:

  • “Thank you for the solutions that are on their way, even while I’m frustrated and hurting.”
  • “Thank you that Jesus lived an actual human life, which means that he knows what it’s like to have problems and learn to pray rather than stress.”
  • “Thank you for the people who really care about me and who will support me through whatever happens.”
  • “Thank you that I have the power to choose my responses to situations—that I’m not a victim but a person with spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and other resources, and one of those resources is prayer.”

This is no magic formula—just some specific steps to take toward a habit of gratitude.

About Vinita Hampton Wright 101 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

6 Comments on Toward a Habit of Gratitude

  1. Every time I read one of your blogs, I come away smiling, uplifted, and meditating on what you say. Thank you, and all blessings to you.

  2. I agree with Rosanne. I am always uplifted by your meditations, your books (I own several. Days of Deepening Friendship saved me one summer several years ago)Today, this reflection is beautiful. I will share it with other women I know who will smile, laugh out loud, and nod as they read – just like I did. Thank you, Vinita. I am grateful for you and women like you who write so beautifully it always feels like I am praying while reading.

  3. I believe more people would pray if they realised that they don’t have to kneel, or put their hands together, or formalise their words.
    I do none of these. I TALK to God, mentally or out loud, it doesn’t matter.
    I remember my first conversation with God was when I was about eight years of age. My first words were ‘I don’t know that I really believe you are there, but if you are I guess I’d better be on your side. If you’re not, then it doesn’t matter.” The second was “Don’t look at me frowning. You made me and you knew what I was thinking and you didn’t stop me.”
    I am a little more respectful now – and give thanks every day to God, my Guardian Angel and my Spirit Guide and I can truly look back over the past thirty years (I am 65) and know every time I was saved from physical injury or spiritual harm and guided in my decision making.
    When with others I don’t say his name, not because I am embarrassed or ashamed of my association with him, but because I want them to find him for themselves. It’s such a great feeling, they need to experience it. All I do is point out HIS work that surrounds us. i.e the miracle of birth, the stars, the planets, the cosmos, a delicate flower or a field of wild flowers, and the list goes on. I have been angry with God, because he did what I asked, but it hurt and my guilt still lingers today. I know he has forgiven me, but I am the only one who can take the whole pain away. Besides, that pain is a permanent reminder that God exists and answers prayers and when I talk, I know that alone is helping me put my problem into perspective. By sharing my troubles, or passing them on to him to deal with, allows me to feel more comfortable with what’s happening, because whatever decision I make to resolve the issue,
    he is my right hand man, my support and he watches my six.

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