For a while now, as I put my daughter to sleep, I’ve been singing Irving Berlin’s song “Count Your Blessings”. It’s a favourite of mine from the movie White Christmas, a pleasant lullaby for grown-ups and children alike. But I’ve only recently connected it to gratitude.

My work can be rather stressful and I often find myself awake at night with projects and items on my to-do list circulating in my head. They’re the annoying sheep who keep bahh-ing while I’m trying to get to sleep. And what happens in my tired fog is that the tasks and problems before me are magnified many many times. The sheep get bigger and louder and smellier. So much so that my worry and negativity amplifies. When this happens, I’ve taken to the practice of naming three things I’m grateful for. I also do it before bed. It’s a kind of brief Examen of thanksgiving that actually helps me sleep better.

The other night when I was singing “Count Your Blessings” to my daughter, I had an aha moment. This was precisely what I was doing when I felt worried and couldn’t sleep! I counted my blessings, those things in my life that I saw as gift. It’s easy to focus on the bad things in our lives, the what-ifs, the should-haves. More often than not it’s negativity that keep us up at night. Gratitude becomes a natural antidote to negativity. It’s nearly impossible to hold gratitude and negativity in your heart at the same time.

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

It’s no surprise Ignatius places gratitude at the beginning of the Examen, reflecting on one’s day. Faith and spirituality look back in order to look forward in hope. It’s a looking back that emphasizes our present blessings, and a looking back that reminds us that blessings have been ours and they will come again. When in desolation, Ignatius says, remember the times of consolation.

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

Grace is another term for these blessings and gifts from God. Sometimes we use the term blessing in a way that makes God seem stingy with grace. Saying “I’ve been so blessed” when things are going well for me might be painful to someone who is experiencing hardship in life. Blessings are not God favouring me over another, giving me gifts that God is not giving another. It’s about seeing the goodness already present in my life, whatever it might be. We can all name things we’re thankful for, no matter the suffering we may presently be experiencing.

Gratitude is a practice of hearing God say, do not worry, I’ve always been with you. See the gifts and claim them, savour them. They do indeed come daily, and they can help you sleep better.

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