I remember one, beautiful fall day when our younger daughter was about 12 years old. We had just adopted two horses and we were riding in a field a few hundred yards from the barn. I was in the lead when my horse startled. As he jumped, I fell off. All the commotion caused the horse my daughter was riding to tear off towards the barn as fast as she could run. Our daughter held on and I hit my knees in prayer. I begged the Lord to give her the strength to hold on and the alertness to get her head low enough to clear the top of the barn door if her horse ran back into her stall. God answered my spontaneous, desperate prayer. As I got control of my horse and headed to the barn, I could see my daughter was safe on her horse and they were standing in the barnyard. I praised God and prayed a most heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving. This was an intense, emotional experience. Experiences like these tend to cause me to turn to God in prayer. Prayers of petition and prayers of thanksgiving.
Because of this incident, I began to think more about prayer and when I pray. I was happy that my first response was to turn to God. Then I thought, “Why don’t I turn to God more often?” Pray before that difficult meeting. Pray for health and safety for my family. I was a police officer at the time, and I would pray for safety for myself and my co-workers. I realized my prayers were most often prayers of petition — prayers asking God to intercede in some way.
While the prayer asking for my daughter’s safety from that dramatic scene was most memorable, I also have a clear memory of the relief I felt seeing her safe in the barnyard and the intense gratitude I expressed to God in my prayer of thanksgiving. This led me to challenge myself to offer these prayers of thanksgiving more regularly. Could I train myself to recognize all that I am thankful for and offer prayers of thanksgiving? I am still working on it! My prayer life will always be a work in progress just like any important relationship.
Look at all we have to be thankful for. And prayers of thanksgiving can be so simple. Simply say to God, “Thank you Lord.” Wake up in the morning feeling rested? “Thank you Lord.” The light turned on when I flipped the switch? “Thank you Lord.” Clean water coming from the faucet when I turned it on? “Thank you Lord.” A cup of hot coffee? “Thank you Lord.” Some healthy food for breakfast? “Thank you Lord.” Warm water for a shower? “Thank you Lord.” The truck started, so I can go to work? “Thank you Lord.” I have the blessing of a really great place to work and great people with whom to work? “Thank you Lord.”
As the director of St. Anthony Retreat Center, I have ready access to the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is on reserve. How fortunate I am to be able to walk down the hall and have the chapel right there! I recently found out an employee was leaving and another employee’s mother was just taken to the hospital because she was gravely ill. What to do? Go to the chapel and pray. This time, I was blessed because we were having a Holy Hour. My inclination was to offer prayers of petition: “Lord, please help the woman who was dying.” “Lord please help the departing employee at this time of transition and bring us a suitable replacement.” How could I turn these petitions into prayers of thanksgiving? Then, I remembered Father Solanus Casey’s teaching, “Thank God ahead of time.”
Father Solanus was a Capuchin priest, and St. Anthony’s was founded by the Capuchins. It seemed unusual to thank God as I learned of these trials. But, I know God will help us through. I know what’s important is for His will to be done. He will help us through these transitions. Thank you Lord, ahead of time.
Deacon Bryan Hilts
Director of St. Anthony Spirituality Center in Marathon