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STEWARDSHIP | Starting with gratitude can help us in our prayer life

Do you struggle with prayer? Do you know other people who have difficulty praying? If so, start with gratitude. Simply thank God for all the people, things and events that happen to you throughout the day. Start from the second you wake up until the second you fall asleep. Be in the moment — thank God right then and there, be specific, and say it clearly and concisely. Soon, you will find yourself praying all day long. Over time, you will begin to see God’s active presence in your life and what started out as simply saying “thank you” now evolves into friendship, which continues to evolve into love for God and neighbor.

Prayer is a two-way street. When we pray, we are thanking God for His gifts, but it also opens our hearts to receive God’s gifts. Gratitude is a choice, and it starts when you recognize that you received a gift. God is constantly sending us gifts, but many times our hearts are closed to receive them. Prayer transforms us to be more God-centered and other-centered and less self-centered.

It’s easy to recognize and receive gifts when we consider them “good.” The hard part is thanking God for trials and tribulations. God is a good Father, and like any parent, He wants the best for His children. So, sometimes we don’t see the immediate benefit of things we don’t like. Here’s an example: Many of us pray for more patience. However, that doesn’t mean that God is suddenly going to surround you with people who agree with you. In fact, the opposite may happen: You may find yourself interacting with people who think completely different than you. Why? You won’t grow in patience with people who agree with you. But you will have to demonstrate more patience with those who don’t agree with you. You grow in a virtue when you have to practice it.

When we grow in gratitude, we are thankful for both the low points and the high points because we recognize that God is encouraging us to be more like Him. There is a lesson to be learned in all circumstances. Grateful people see God’s blessings and give thanks. Ungrateful people take things for granted, or wors,e think that they deserve nothing but good things in their life.

How can we cultivate gratitude?

• Develop a daily prayer routine — without God we can do nothing. A great gratitude prayer is Matthew Kelly’s “prayer process”

• Write a gratitude journal — start a daily journal of things you are grateful for (good and bad).

• Show gratitude — do intentional small acts of kindness every day, throughout the day.

• Gratitude exercise — close your eyes for several minutes. Think of all the people God has put in your life; think of all talents God has given you; finally, think how these people and talents (gifts) have given you the life you have.

Regardless of our own individual circumstances, we all have a lot to be grateful for. We all have been given a lot of gifts. We are reminded by St. Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

David Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.

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