Thank You

006 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”.

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Giving Thanks

Have you ever experienced the feeling of  thankfulness just washing over you?  Or the feeling of being so full of gratitude that it seemed like you could not contain it all?  I absolutely love those feelings, and they come to me increasingly as I get older and wiser.  They usually come when I am out in nature or when I finally gain some understanding about how life works or when I think about the people in my life.

They came after the birth of my children and the night I sat up staring at my sleeping sixteen year- old daughter after she had been in what could have been a horrible car accident.  Interestingly enough, even though acquiring something material can make me happy,  it has never prompted that overwhelming gratitude that fills my heart.

Gratitude lists or journals are often recommended to help keep our focus on the positive things in our lives, and I can’t argue with that.  They are reported to make people more optimistic, have fewer physical complaints, and experience more energy, enthusiasm, alertness, and determination.

When we experience the feelings of appreciation, the parasympathetic nervous system – the calming branch of the autonomic nervous system – is activated.  This can have a protective effect on the heart when it happens regularly.

Drs. Blair and Rita Justice say that “there is evidence that when we practice bringing attention to what we appreciate in our lives more positive emotions emerge, leading to beneficial alterations in heart rate variability.  This may not only relieve hypertension, but reduce the risk of sudden death from coronary artery disease.

The more we pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence we experience internally.  When our hearts are in an “internal coherence state”, studies suggest that we enjoy the capacity to be peaceful and calm, yet retain the ability to respond appropriately to stressful circumstances.”

Gratitude, along with wonder and awe, also triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin, our internal feel-good chemicals. To me, a grateful person also seems to radiate a certain kind of energy that makes you feel good to be in their presence.

Keeping a gratitude journal (or even a daily mental list of things you are thankful for) seems like a great way to begin to make gratitude a way of life.  I’m not sure it will be as effective though if we allow ourselves to be bombarded with negativity at the same time.

Personally, I do not want to hear complaining, criticism, or repeated negative media reports unless it serves a meaningful purpose or can lead to constructive action.  I want to keep moving forward and bringing positive change to my life and my world.  Gratitude can help to do that.

I have not kept a written gratitude journal, but I may start.  I do know that when I have practiced making a mental list of things I am thankful for, it is hard to stop.  It seems like there is always something that can be added to the list.  After a while, I truly begin to experience that “internal coherence state” that Drs. Blair and Rita Justice wrote about.

To quote them again: “So when we look at snow-capped peaks or golden swatches of changing aspens or the Milky Way at night from high in the Rockies, our souls sing and our bodies are suffused with streams of dopamine and serotonin, the gifts of gratitude.  In short, feeling gratitude and appreciation on a regular basis helps heal us at every level of our being.”

Gratitude

Things I’m thankful for today:

Organic potatoes, even if I have to drive 35 miles to get them.  Potatoes, celery, and strawberries are three things you should try to find that have been grown without pesticides. (I didn’t drive the 35 miles just to get the potatoes – combined shopping with a trip to the dentist!)

Fresh chives from my herb garden – the first thing from the garden in the spring that I can use in cooking.  Wonderful in twice-baked potatoes!

An hour long walk in the country and the fact that I have a walking path to walk on so I don’t have to walk on the road.

A day with enough free time to be with my granddaughter for a few hours!

My husband thinking of the idea to take my mother out for a drive since it is a beautiful day and she seldom gets out.  (Men – if you want to endear yourself to your wife, give some time, love, and attention to not only her but also to those people she loves, especially your children.  Do it with enthusiasm and it’s even better!)

Spring!!!