Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving. One of the joys of being a dual citizen is that I get two days set aside to focus on Thanksgiving. This weekend, I had a chance to celebrate it with my sons and their girlfriends, which was a source of thanksgiving in and of itself, and in November, we will do the same.
However, I am not just a dual citizen but also as Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:20, someone whose citizenship is also in heaven, as a follower of Christ. And that means that EVERY DAY is Thanksgiving Day. We are told to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in al ciscuamstanse.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.)
I am a firm believer in the importance of the daily practice of intentional thanksgiving to God. I believe it is a transformative way to view the world — with eyes of gratitude and thanksgiving.
It is one of the foundations of my approach to Confirmation Ministry. At the beginning of each class, we go around the circle and talk about our highs and lows, for the day or the week. Some weeks, a confirmand may say, “I don’t have a high,” to which I respond, “You always have to have a high, because God is present in each day.” I want to engrain that way of thinking as a response to life — that God is present so there is some source of joy.
Focusing on areas of thanksgiving and joy can also be a great practice for families to encourage closeness or for couples to develop communication skills and shared intimacy. In premarital classes, I recommend that couples spend a few minutes at the end of each day going over their highs and lows, so that they know what is going on with each other. I emphasize the importance of ending the day with three statements of gratitude, to remind them of what is good in life.
When my kids lived with me, we did this on a regular basis, as it helped me know what was going on with them and provided an attitude adjustment for all of us when necessary. I continue to do it now, even if I am just talking to myself and God.
This is the concept that the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote, “Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.” (Philippians 4:8). Even as he awaited death in prison, which is where he was when he wrote these words, he knew the importance of an attitude of gratitude. He knew that attitude is best developed when one tries to focus one’s vision by seeing “What’s right with the world.”
In Ignatian spirituality (a form of spiritual discipline used by the Jesuits), there is a form of prayer that helps a person focus on this kind of attitude, called the Daily Examen. The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern God’s direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.
Basically, what the Examen consists of is a series of five steps.
- 1. Become aware of God’s presence.
- 2. Review the day with gratitude.
- 3. Pay attention to your emotions.
- 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- 5. Look toward tomorrow.
By engaging in a deliberate attempt to review one’s day and see God at work within it, the goal is to entrust your cares to God, while also seeing God’s fingerprints at work within your life. The idea of the Examen is more fully explored at Ignatianspirituality.com, which is also a wonderful avenue for developing other spiritual disciplines.
During this time when so many of us are overwhelmed with uncertainty and filled with angst, I encourage you to undertake this spiritual discipline as a way of reordering your lives. As I have engaged in it over the years, I have found it to be a wonderful tool for helping me live out Paul’s exhortation, as well as being a calming center for my life.
In the end, I know I am better able to live my life as a person of hope and faith because it reminds me that no matter what happens, God is present in every day — and knowing that presence changes my view no matter what I am seeing.
God, who calls us to live lives filled with Thanksgiving, help me to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and to seek your presence in each day, so that it might fill me with joy, no matter what I am facing. In the midst of the storms and trials, help me find calm knowing you are with me and grant me the ability to view all things through that lens. In the name of Emanuel, who assures us that God is with us always, we pray. Amen.