It is natural for us to ask help from God in times of trouble or sorrow. It is also natural to plead on behalf of our loved ones. These two forms of prayer - petition and intercession - are vital. But the prayer of thanksgiving, mentioned so often in Scripture and made so eloquently in many Psalms, must also be an essential part of our lives as Christians.
Are we truly thankful to God for His innumerable blessings and mercies toward us? Do we really feel we even have anything to be thankful for? Perhaps, amid our daily duties and struggles, an occasion for gratitude seems hard to find. We may have pressing financial needs, urgent family problems, deep personal sorrows or concerns. We may be only too well aware of the evils of our time, or the sins of our heart. We may simply feel empty, weary, isolated. The evening news, or the events in our neighborhood, may make us feel that talk of thanking God is at best simple-minded and at worst hypocritical.
In reality, the practice of prayerful thanksgiving is essential to acquiring inner peace. Far from being simple-minded, it requires - and develops - a living faith and humility in the soul. One of the reasons God often seems far from us is simply because we do not - even will not - see Him where He is, in the daily circumstances of life He sends us.
Giving thanks to God for everything in our "ordinary" lives can help us to see at last that nothing in our lives is really ordinary. Life is never "ordinary". It is rather a passage from time into eternity. The circumstances that rise before us, the problems we encounter, the relationships we form, the choices we make, all ultimately concern our eternal union with or separation from God.
If we as Christians truly believe that our lives are lived under the sign of the Cross and in the light of eternity, then we must believe that God is with us in all the changing fortunes of our days. And we must also believe that despite natural disasters and human ills, evil is not finally triumphant and death is not victorious. In our lives there are no chance events, no irrational twists of empty fate, but rather the ever-present workings of a provident God, Who uses all means to lead us into the harbor of Christ.
When we begin to feel, however faintly, the truth of this, we shall find much to be grateful for. The spirit of thankfulness is a necessary part of the spiritual discipline of living in the present moment - with God - and not in the past or the future. We cannot know what will happen tomorrow, or even tonight; we cannot change what is already past. But we can be grateful today for the blessings of today - the blessing of life itself, the blessing of communion with God through prayer and the Holy Eucharist, the blessing of repentance, the healing of forgiveness. Even the small, seemingly trivial, moments in our day - the sight of a bird in the sky, the greening of a tree, the laugh of a child, the voice of a friend - speak to us of God if only we wish to hear, for everything of beauty, of light, of love, comes to us from Him.
In such small moments, as much as in the dramatic crises of our lives, the headlong rush of time opens upon eternity. If we learn to live quietly, attentively, faithfully, in the "now" which alone truly exists for us, we shall be prepared by degrees for the "everlasting now" which awaits us after death. If we do not find and follow Christ in the present moment, we shall not recognize Him at the end of time.
Let us ask of God a grateful heart, and let us resolve to give thanks each day for the day itself and the presence of Christ in it, sustaining our life by His hand and giving courage to our struggles, zeal to our repentance, contrition to our prayer, and stability to our labors. If only we will make an effort, we will find that giving thanks to God - even in adversity - opens our hearts to see blessings we had not thought to find.
Reprinted with permission from Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns, Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 1991, pp.8-9, produced by The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, Pa.
© 1999 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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