Confession time: I’m not really good at maintaining routines.
I know all about the benefit of a good routine—how it gives boundary to your life, eliminates stress by putting certain activities on autopilot, organizes your time.In fact, I’m really good at making up routines; I’m just not so great at keeping them up.
Which is why I’ve surprised myself with one spiritual routine that I’ve actually maintained for several months now. It has made a great enough impact in my life that I feel qualified to share it with you. It is, however, so deceptively simply I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it:
Every morning, as soon as I am aware that I am awake, I think of five things that I am grateful for. Every night, just before I shut off my brain, I think of five more things that I am grateful for.
That’s it. I just say: I’m grateful for….and list them. I don’t dwell on them. I don’t try to create some mass feeling of enormous delight. I simply list the things I’m grateful for right that moment.
Sometimes they are major, like finding the leak in the water main before the house was flooded; but often they are rather mundane, like having cream for my coffee when I go downstairs. The size of the object or event doesn’t matter. Gratitude is gratitude.
What I’ve discovered about this routine is that it bookends my day—I begin and end in gratitude. As clichéd as that might sound, it really has made a big difference in my life.
That’s why I’m suggesting you begin something similar this month. June, the beginning of summer, is a great time to start this exercise because we have such bounty in nature to be grateful for. (It’s much easier to feel grateful when golden sun is streaming through the bedroom window and birds are chirping than it is when rain pelts the pane and a howling wind chills the soul.)
If your experience is like mine, you probably will feel a little silly at first—especially if you are listing things like, “I’m thankful I’m alive” and “I’m grateful I have a roof over my head.” And, depending on what’s happening in your life, you might even be hard pressed to find five things you are genuinely grateful about.
But here’s the key. We are told to be thankful in all things; not for all things. We don’t have to pretend we are tickled pink to have a broken bone, but we can be grateful that the accident wasn’t worse. We aren’t expected to cavort for joy when the car breaks down and needs an engine replacement, but we can give thanks that our teen wasn’t driving it when it happened. In everything that happens to us, we can find evidence of God’s grace and mercy if we make a genuine attempt to shift into a place of looking for the blessing.
What’s really cool about this is that gradually, as you focus every morning and every night on the abundance God has brought into your life, that abundance will begin to grow. To be honest, I’m not sure if I actually have more things to be grateful for or if I’m simply growing more aware of all the blessings I’ve already had, but some days I can list 10 or 20 or even 30 things I’m genuinely and profoundly grateful for.
But don’t take my word for it. I challenge you to give it a try this month as our parish work loads begin to wind down a bit and we enter into the soft rhythm of “Ordinary Time.”