Did you ever notice how joyful people are really prayerful people, or how prayerful people are actually grateful people, or how thankful people seem to be filled with real joy? St. Paul took these casual observations and raised them to a whole new level when he wrote to his friends in Thessalonica:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this
is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1Thes. 5:16-18)
It would seem that praying is not a stand alone activity, but St. Paul’s very direct instructions only lead to more questions. How do you rejoice when there is a cancer diagnosis, or when children die, or when your loved one dies, or _________ (fill in your own blank)? How could you possibly be thankful for loosing your job, or failing the big exam or _________? Pray constantly? I barely have enough time to say any prayers as it is! These are real concerns and valid ones, too. But there’s a problem when even valid concerns become mere excuses.
Maybe the best way to follow St. Paul’s directives is to start with the last one. Begin by counting your blessings, and, better than that, name them. Name them one at a time, just one per day. No fair counting the same “blessing” more than once. It won’t take more than a couple of weeks to name the big ones. Naming the small ones is actually much more interesting. How was it that “unloading the dishwasher” was a blessing last Tuesday? Naming and appreciating the small blessings that come our way each day helps to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and a joyful discovery of what might otherwise be forgotten moments.
Along with counting your blessings, try asking yourself this question at the end of each day: “When did I experience God’s presence today?” In a manner similar to first naming big blessings and then the little ones, just asking yourself this question repeatedly can alter your attention from being simply reflective to being prospective. There’s a change from realizing that God was present to anticipating that God will be present. So acknowledge that Presence! That, too, will change, from saying, “Thank you, Lord, for being with me today,” to saying, “Thank you, Lord, for being with me now,” all the while sowing seeds for a joyful awareness of God’s constant presence.
In the context of St. Paul’s instruction, praying is not a stand alone “activity,” but for a different reason than one might first expect. Praying is not something that you “do,” so much as it is part of who we “are,” part of a larger way of being. When you get right down to it, every breath we take can be a grateful, joyful prayer.