There are wonderful times in our lives when God answers a prayer. Maybe it is something we have been praying for years; maybe it is something we never thought would be answered. Maybe the answer was beyond our wildest dreams, better than we ever could have imagined. Maybe God didn’t answer your prayer, and you can look back with gratitude that it wasn’t answered because something much better was put in your way instead.
These beautiful moments of grace, though they may feel rare, can be truly life and love-affirming reminders that God still has our lives in the palm of His hands. The challenge is to trust that this is true all times, but tangible moments of grace and answered prayers can be dropped into our lives to help us along the way.
While a daily ‘attitude of gratitude’ is really important to cultivate, how can we give thanks for particularly ‘big’ answered prayers or spiritual gifts? It can be so easy to receive an answer to prayer, give God a cursory ‘thanks’ and then be on our way, looking after our own lives again. Or we can become overwhelmed by the feeling that we will never be able to repay God for His goodness to us. So what can we do? Here are a few tips to help get you started.
1. Pray a Thanksgiving Rosary.
If your Rosary often starts with a list of intentions and petitions, put aside time to pray a Rosary dedicated to just thanksgiving for what you have been given. You could make these ‘thanksgiving rosaries’ a regular occurrence. It is still good to ask God for what you need, but putting aside time to thank God in particular really sets aside the thanksgiving and allows us time to reflect on it and not rush on from it.
Or, you could decide that you will, for a set number of days, pray a prayer of thanksgiving. This could be something you have written yourself, or check out the beautiful Acts of Thomas, which is a Prayer of Gratitude for God’s Blessings.
2. Be as Specific in your Thanks as You are in Your Petitions
If you’re anything like me, I can go into a lot of detail when I’m praying for something I want or need. ‘Please God, this is why, I need this, oh and by the way’, etc. When I’m thanking God for something, I spend much less time on it! Maybe because I am too hesitant to believe that this answered prayer really has come from God and isn’t just a coincidence and it will be taken away from me, or because I’m too lazy and want to jump onto the next best thing that God can give me. Either way, taking the time to really thank God and to reflect in detail on why we are thankful is the best way to explore the gift we have been given and have our gratitude embedded in our lives. Making a list or a gratitude journal every once in awhile can help with this too.
3. Continue to Be Faithful, Especially in the Small Things
It is easy to be quick to forget what God has done for us or given us. After relying heavily on God during an extended period of suffering, we can find ourselves, once back to normal, dismissing God so that we can go back to running our lives. We can tell ourselves that we don’t need God when things are going well. But belief in God is about a relationship, friendship, that shares in the joys as well as the sorrows. And a friendship that continues to be worked on, no matter our own feelings of ‘needing it’ or not. So one of the greatest ways to show thanks to God is to simply continue doing what we know is right, all the way down to the little, dull things that we might not feel like doing. Daily prayer, chores, living daily with integrity and continuing to put aside time to bring life to our friendship with God.
4. Have a Mass Offered in Thanks for the Prayer Answered
This one is simple, but beautiful. What can be better than having the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered in thanksgiving for what you have been given? Ask your parish priest or send a request to a religious order. You don’t have to tell them why, you can have the Mass offered for your ‘intentions’ or ‘in thanksgiving’. If you want a specific date, you may have to ask ahead of time.
5. Mark Your Thanksgiving Annually
In September 2012, I received the most incredible answer to a prayer. It was so amazing that I vowed never to forget what I had been given that day. Every year since then, I have marked it down in my appointments diary and made sure that the day does not go past without marking it in some way. Whether you want to have a Mass said on that day each year, or make a donation to a shrine or a charity, or hold a celebration with your family or friends, this is one way to ensure that you never forget the amazing gift you have been given!
6. Share Your Story and Give Back!
St Peter wrote: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you”. (1 Peter 3.15) Not all of us will have the opportunity to share your story as a formal testimony at a retreat (but if you are, I encourage you!) but maybe there will be other ways you can share the goodness of what God has given you. Maybe someone is in a similar situation to you and by sharing your story you can help them. Everyone has experienced times when a normal, simple conversation with a friend turns out to be a life-saver. Someone else opening up and sharing a similar situation in their life can make a real, positive and permanent difference to our lives. Volunteering, donating or giving back in some way can also be a chance to show gratitude for the gifts received in our lives.
7. Finally, Know That…
The greatest act of worship that we can give to God is to let Him give Himself to us.
We will never be able to repay God for what He has given us, but that shouldn’t drive us to despair. We shouldn’t go running around crazy trying to shore up enough thanksgivings to make God happy with our response. God gives freely, we can try to give freely back, but growing in integrity and friendship with God is what He asks us in response. He does not give us these gifts to burden us, rather, to help us live lives that are full and alive and filled with holy light. So just let God give Himself to you, and strive to rejoice and delight in His very self.