Maybe you are a member of one of those families that takes turns sharing what they are most grateful for before they dig into Thanksgiving dinner. I am usually lousy at it. Most years I’m a little flustered from a busy day in the kitchen and grateful that the turkey isn’t raw and I didn’t burn the rolls. But I am missing the words to express my deeper gratitude to God. I usually stumble through a quick thanks for my family and let someone else take their turn.
I am truly thankful to God for many things this year and I am making time to put it into words before we gather around the table. The most helpful practice I have found for cultivating gratitude is praying the Examen. The Examen is a daily practice developed by St. Ignatius Loyola that is used as a pattern of prayer by Christians around the world. It teach us to recognize the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and pray honestly about the times we feel distant from God. You can learn more about praying the Examen and cultivating gratitude here.
The Examen invites us to come into the presence of God and guides us through five steps in prayer:
1. Quiet yourself so that you become aware of God’s presence.
2. Before God, give thanks for large and small blessings he has provided.
3. Review your day looking for the activity of the Holy Spirit.
4. Face the difficult emotions and personal failings in your day, asking for forgiveness and wisdom.
5. Look to how you will live in the presence of God in the day ahead.
If you struggle to put your gratitude into words I encourage you to take a few moments to try a traditional spiritual practice of examen to give words to your thankfulness. You can look at the past day or week or year through a prayer of Examen. Ignatius always began any spiritual exercise with gratitude because he was convinced of the goodness and generosity of God. Approaching God with anything less that gratitude was sure to produce pride, disobedience, and anger.
This year I am grateful for my expanded family, for kind friends, for good healthcare when we needed it, and all the small gifts from God I experience on a daily basis. And I am overwhelmed with God’s generosity towards me, giving me strength to persevere when I feel so weak and reminding me that I am loved for who I am and not for what I do. It has been a good year given by our very good God. He deserves a word of thanks at our Thanksgiving table. How will you thank him?