Several years ago I began to question the idea of prayer. I believed in prayer, just maybe not so much in the way I was doing it or the way I was seeing it done. Many times it was like a to-do list, where I crossed off (in my mind anyway) each item after I said a sentence or two requesting help for a person or personal need. Maybe there’s nothing exactly wrong with that, especially if a person’s heart is in the right place, but I felt like it had become too rote for me. For a time I couldn’t even pray. I wanted prayer to be real – I wanted to make a connection.
So, for a while I didn’t pray – the only two words that I could pray when I even tried were “thank you”. They seemed to flow out of me even when I wasn’t trying to pray. When I walked out in nature or lay down to go to sleep, with each step I took or each breath I breathed those words would be there:” thank you”. At least I felt like I was making a connection – I knew I wasn’t the source of the fresh air or the lungs to breath with, the beautiful green trees, the magnificent blue sky, the red ripe tomato, the juicy sweetness of a peach, or the fragrant beauty of a flower. Maybe my desire to connect to God, to that source, was my real prayer, and it was being answered in a way I hadn’t expected or experienced before. Maybe our real prayers aren’t often even expressed in words but in the cries and longings of our hearts, the gratitude we feel, and the belief in God’s willingness and desire to meet us where we are. I think it is our faith that sets things in motion more even than our need. Jesus said more than once that “it will be done unto you according to your faith (or as you believe)”.
Now I still bring requests to God, but in a slightly different way. I come believing and expecting an answer and giving thanks for it, but I know that the answer may come about in a marvelous, unexpected way, but in the best way, and I still try to have my major prayer be “thank you”. Some days I give thanks for people – my husband, my kids, grandchildren, my brothers and sister, friends, people who have impacted my life. I give thanks for their gifts, their health, for God working in their lives. Other times I say thank you for my body – the muscles and bones that help carry me about, my lungs and heart, blood vessels, immune system, hands and feet, my brain and nervous system. As I give thanks for each thing, I think about how it helps me and serves me in my life so I feel the feeling of gratitude. Sometimes as I lie down to sleep, I give thanks for the pillow, the sheets and blankets, the bed and room, the house and yard. I feel the feelings of appreciation for how each thing enhances my life. This might seem silly, but I’m convinced that when we appreciate what we have, we realize how much we really are blessed, and our lives become richer and better.
I trace all this back to those days when I struggled to find the meaning of prayer, and I realize that gratitude has changed my life in a big way, and that even that was a gift, an answer to a prayer I only felt but couldn’t express. I know not everyone will add gratitude to their life in the same way that I did, but I hope that more and more people will find a way to say “thank you”.