I went on a weekend retreat two weeks ago, not something I’m prone to do very often. In fact, I might be able to count on one hand the times I’ve gone on retreat, although I’ve thought of doing it numerous times over the years, usually during Lent or Advent.
My experience this Lent was such that I’ve already committed not only to attending one next year, but to help in organizing it. Why am I excited about the next retreat after my avoidance, reticence, busy travel schedule or maybe, honestly, laziness to attend one regularly? I had several takeaways, especially one in particular.
I did experience: great fellowship among the 70+ men and women of all ages present; time to really breathe in a more relaxed air of a head cleared of distractions; time to take in nature and reflect on my place in it; a chance for quiet prayer and meditation.
There was also new awareness that came during the spirituality workshops. In one of the sessions, one of the respondents on a discussion on spiritual tools talked about the value of doing a gratitude list.
The purpose of a gratitude list is an aid to not taking the good things and positive experiences in life for granted. “Count your blessings” might sound like a cliché. But, as simple as it sounds, it can be powerful tool to warding off our own human tendency to be overwhelmed with the challenges of everyday life.
Gratitude helps build thankfulness in one’s heart, to remind us of what we have received so that we can better give so others can receive.
Richard Rohr, in Franciscan Media Books’ Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, discusses the importance of gratitude as an element in truly connecting to God at work in one’s live.
I’ve heard for years the value of doing gratitude lists (and ignored that it would mean anything to me!).
But what I found by doing a gratitude list each day was that it truly has reminded me of how much I have, how much love I experience, how the positive things certainly outweigh all of the challenges on a bad day. And through it, I have learned that I am not in control of everything, that others are there in so many ways in my life, that God appears more present in my life.
How to get started? For me, it was easy. Upon hearing I was going to start a gratitude list, my wife gave me a small notepad (something else for me to be grateful!). I then put pen to paper each day listing those special things that come to mind from the sublime – “Thank God for his love and caring” and “Grateful for a loving wife with whom I can share my most private thoughts” – to the seemingly minor – “Thankful for enjoying lemon ice on a warm day” – to the ridiculous – “I so appreciate getting a call from my cousin razzing me on the Yankees loss.”
It has become a way to reflect on the day and how each one is blessed and filled with blessings.
What are the blessings in your life?
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Photos above: Deerhaven Retreat and Conference Center in Paisley, Fla., and a sample gratitude list (Photos by Mark Lombard).