Before Thanksgiving meals at my grandparents' house in Cincinnati, we participated in a special Thanksgiving grace. This prayer was based around the invitation to have everyone "go around the table and say something you’re thankful for.” In this situation and others like it, I became stressed out by the pressure to come up with “something good” – i.e. some prayer that makes me seem adequately grateful to God in the ears of those I pray with.
Therefore, I try to avoid being the first person to offer to the room the reason for which I'm grateful. I need time enough to think of something esoteric; something that justifies to my family or friends the amount of time I have spent in post-secondary theological studies; something that gives evidence of a decent prayer life; some prayer that shows that I have recognized God's work in a place where not many may have recognized it. As long as I'm given enough time before the table gets around to me, I might show my "advanced spiritual depth" by deciding to give thanks to God for something like "the ability even to give You gratitude, which is sourced in You."
Of course, the pressure to give thanks for a "smart" reason is entirely self-imposed, and fairly egotistical. G.K. Chesterton, an author noted for his joy and sense about the world God gave us, offers us this practice to chew on:
“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
There's no word on how complex Chesterton's "grace" is, and I imagine it's simple enough that spoken words may not always be necessary... a breath of gratitude. Children are more likely to practice this sort of gratitude than adults, which is probably one reason why Christ says we should be more like them. It's the "silly" things, the gifts spoken by the smallest children in these table prayers, which are endearing and ultimately demonstrate the right conception of gratitude - a child saying "Thank you, God, that I get to wear my favorite socks today." I could have legitimately said "thank you" in this prayer for anything that popped into my head. My socks are also gifts from God, and I may rejoice in them.
Sure, it is good to take the time to step back and reflect on what areas of God's gifts we may have recently missed in our lives. It is not a bad thing to realize that even our ability to give thanks to God comes from the free will he has bestowed upon us. However, remembering to give glory to God for whatever we happen to be doing at this moment is an even better spiritual habit. Do me a favor and read Psalm 136 today, which ends, "Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures for ever." Happy Thanksgiving.
Laura Berlage serves as Director of Religious Education for Incarnate Word Parish in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.