Thanksgiving is the other prayer form (along with petition) we usually teach early to children. Indeed, throughout our lives, we often couple thanksgiving and petition. ‘Thank you for this food, and bless those who prepared it and those who receive it.’
‘What was your favourite thing about your day?’ we used to ask our little ones. Then ‘let’s say thank you to God for the lovely …’ whatever it was. The old children’s hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful’ is a thank you prayer.
The obvious misconception is that when we say thank you for something we’re under the impression that God arranged it for our personal benefit. And it may be that some people think this way. To orthodox Catholic philosophy, though, ‘Thank you God for the nice weather for our barbeque,’ is less about drawing a causal link between our petitions and natural events, and more about acknowledging that all creation has God as its prime cause.
Jesus pointed out the risk of thanksgiving – like other prayer, it can become about us instead of about God. ‘I thank you God that I am not like this publican,’ is a prayer of self satisfaction, said out loud for the benefit of the audience.
Thanksgiving prayer, perhaps more than any other, has this tendency. I’ve heard it with my children. ‘Thank you God that my drawing was much, much better than Paul’s,’ is both likely and intended to drive Paul crazy thinking about how to get his own back without getting into trouble for disrupting family prayer time. (Mind you, a creative child can turn even a prayer of petition into yet another small battle in the war of sibling rivalry: ‘Please God make Mary nice instead of mean to me all the time.’) At home, parents and grandparents can stamp on such behaviour firmly. What a pity we don’t have the same authority over some of the intercessory prayers foisted on us at church by well-meaning ideologues.
(This was first posted on joyfulpapist.wordpress.com, and is part of a series on prayer. Previous posts in the series were:
Prayers of offering
Praying for ourselves; praying for others
A people of prayer