Almost five years ago, I was building a new life for myself after a divorce as I waited on my annulment case. I was in my counselor’s office crying over some recent difficult days. In hard seasons of life, it’s easy to only see the things that aren’t going as planned. Maybe you relate to this (especially this year!) if you’re dealing with a challenging season of singleness or just the heaviness of 2020.
Gently yet firmly, my counselor gave me a simple homework assignment. She asked me to find a notebook and set a timer each day for five to ten minutes. Each day, I was supposed to sit and write all the things I was grateful for that day. She wanted me to count all the blessings, all the ways God loves me in my daily life.
In time, this practice began to change my perspective from the inside out. It not only shifted how I looked at my current reality, but how I was able to find God’s presence in my daily life even when life was less than ideal.
Thankfulness should not be something we practice one day a year. I think this year more than ever requires greater surrender to what we cannot control and practices that help nourish our minds and spirits, namely gratitude.
Here are some gratitude practices to help you navigate your own life right now. These are practices I’ve used at different times in life and found particularly helpful in challenging times of singleness.
Keeping a gratitude journal
Some of you may roll your eyes at this, but the discipline of this at varying times in my own life has been both healing and challenging. My spiritual director often reminds me that there is always something to be grateful for. We just have to attune our spiritual and emotional senses to read and see it.
You may not be the journaling type and that’s okay! Build a gratitude practice into some consistent part of your day that already exists. Maybe use your morning commute to recall what you are grateful for. Perhaps this practices becomes part of a routine like brewing coffee, making dinner, or brushing your teeth. Plug it into something you already have to do every single day.
You won’t always feel like being grateful and some days may be more challenging than others. But, like my director told me, there is always something to be grateful for. Try it, you just may surprise yourself!
Pray a daily examen
The examen is a format of daily prayer given to us by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuit spiritual tradition. It is a way of reflecting on God’s daily presence in your life while also growing in awareness of the movements of God throughout the day.
While there can be slightly different versions on how to pray the examen, they all have the same foundation.
Start by expressing gratitude. Recall your day and name anything for which you are grateful.
Then, review the day. Move from morning to night and pay attention to where you felt or did not feel God’s presence. Remember, no detail is too small or mundane! When did you feel close to God? When did you feel far away from God? Were there any invitations to grow in faith, hope, and charity? If so, how did you respond to those invitations?
Next, name your sorrows. Name the things from the day for which you are sorry. Include both actions and regrets, things you did or did not do.
Then, seek forgiveness. Ask God to forgive you for any wrongdoing. If there is someone you may have hurt and with whom you should reconcile, resolve now to reconcile with them and ask their forgiveness.
Finally, ask for grace for tomorrow. Conclude your time of prayer by thanking God for the gift of your life and this day. Then, ask for the grace you need to see God’s presence more clearly and to conform yourself more closely to Jesus tomorrow.
I have found this prayer particularly helpful during times of loneliness or personal struggle. Even if God feels distant to me, I’m reminded that God is always moving and active in my life.
Improve your happiness and mood in other areas of life
Being grateful can make you happy, but also feeling happy can make you more grateful. Focus on how you want to feel. Ask yourself the question, How do I want to feel right now? What are some healthy choices that would help me feel better in this moment?
Maybe you need to get moving by dancing in the kitchen to some good jams. Perhaps exercise, getting outdoors, or making time for a hobby like knitting. The point is to help change your mindset by getting moving and doing something.
Once you get some endorphins flowing, showing gratitude will become even easier and you’ll start to be able to make list after list of all the blessings in your life.
Be patient and kind to yourself. The holidays this year are more difficult for all of us. Take care of your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Trust that God is doing something, even when life feels hard, scary, or lonely.