A recent radio broadcast directed at single young adults recommended that listeners would do well to list 100 things for which they were grateful. I was driving at the time the challenge was issued, and, despite being overqualified for the unattached young adult category, I began counting on my fingers and got up to something like 72.
I have to confess that I reverted a bit to my childhood way of dealing with the candy I had given up for Lent. I bargained. For example, when I was 8 years old I reasoned that Sundays were an exception, so a Milky Way that day was OK. (I think Sister Whoever had allowed something like that.) Then, of course, there was St. Patrick’s Day. I recall that I also gave myself a pass when the report card went home with a gold star.
As I started counting blessings, I started with the predictable reasons for thankfulness: parents, siblings, faith, my religious community, my grandparents and godparents, friends, teachers, food, drink, ministry, health, our parish, books, music, art, our dog Angel.
Then I realized that it would be much easier to get to 100 if I rattled off the names of the relatives, the sisters I live with, the sisters at the motherhouse, and so on. I could also name almost every teacher who ever taught me (except, for some amnesiac reason, the college profs who thought C was a fair grade for me in Biology 2 and Audio-visual Education).
By the time I got through all those names, I would be in multiples of 100. Then, of course, instead of food and drink, I could be more specific: grilled catfish, spinach salad, lentil quinoa soup, yogurt, coffee, Perrier water, unsweetened iced tea. Since I enjoy almost everything edible, I’d be heading toward 1,000. At that point, I realized that I was making what was intended as a religious exercise into a championship competition or a silly game.
The point, however, was and is well taken. Often we dwell on our aches and heartbreaks and woes. We simply don’t acknowledge the gifts presented by each day. Simple things like a good night’s sleep, warmth or cool in the house, running water, electricity, all of our communications devices, medications that keep us alive and well —all of these get overlooked.
Freedom of worship and freedom of movement are things we rarely enumerate when we thank God. The fact that we can receive the Eucharist daily and read and reflect on Sacred Scripture are things we take for granted.
I have found that it is quite effective at the end of the day to mention in prayer various items and events and persons for which and for whom I am thankful. I am often shocked to realize how rarely I have been attuned to the blessings God sends, one after another.
There is a good reason why Brother David Steindl-Rast has called gratefulness the heart of prayer. As Psalm 54 says, “God is present as my helper; the Lord sustains my life.”