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Gratitude in the Chaos – Finding Hope and Perspective Through Daily Intentional Reflection and Thanksgiving

Career and Workforce Development Supporting the Profession AVP or "Number Two" Senior Level VP for Student Affairs
February 26, 2024 Matthew D. Quick Rockhurst University

While 2023 offered student affairs staff somewhat of a respite from the range of complex and difficult COVID affiliated issues that we faced while trying to navigate our work from 2020 to 2022, last year was a challenging one none-the-less. This has been the theme of personal and professional reflections that I have heard from colleagues, friends, and family as we have contemplated what we accomplished, navigated, and experienced in 2023. From political turmoil in Washington and the looming election, wars and rumors of war, the ongoing border and migrant crises, weather and climate disasters, inflation and worker strikes, and a host of mass shootings, these are but a few of the challenges that we have all navigated personally - and also offered accompaniment to our students around (see my NASPA blog from February 2022).  This is on top of all the stressors we face at our universities and colleges – inadequate resources to meet the growing needs of our students, ever-present enrollment challenges, the difficulty of keeping our campuses safe from a realm of threats, deferred maintenance, staffing transitions, etc. Wow, this is all kind of depressing – should you keep reading? I hope you will.

One of the great gifts that has been extended to me as a “companion in the work” at a Jesuit, Catholic institution of higher education such as Rockhurst University (located in Kansas City, MO) is The Examen. The Examen, created by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, is “an opportunity for peaceful daily reflective prayer. . .simply a set of introspective prompts for you to follow or adapt to your own character and spirit” (www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/).  For those who believe in God, the Examen is a way “to see God’s presence and to discern God’s direction for us.”  For those who do not believe in God or are not familiar or comfortable with reflective prayer, you can adapt The Examen to practices more akin to meditation, contemplation, reflection, or even concentration.

The Examen has four parts or steps – Gratitude, Review, Forgiveness, and Renewal – and can be accomplished in a matter of minutes. While Jesuit priests do The Examen several times a day as a practice (normally noon and end of day), I have found it to be helpful to start my day with it. Most profound has been the time that I spend around Gratitude. . .for what am I thankful? In spending intentional time focusing on those things that bring me joy and thanksgiving in my life, it frames everything that is headed my way through the day – and allows penetrating light to be cast in places that otherwise feel like a consuming darkness at times. It allows me to offer hope, not only to others, but sometimes to the person that needs it the most on some days – me.

In my over 30 years in higher education and student affairs – and as I slowly become more eligible for “senior discounts” for various businesses – I am continuing to learn what it means to live “life in the balance”. That is, how do I live in the present and the “now, but not yet”? How do I learn from my successes and failures in the past, but not let them define me? And how do I look to the future with both a sense of reality, but also bold and hope-filled optimism? All of this starts for me at the beginning of each day when I prayerfully ask God to reveal to me, “For what am I grateful”?

As we begin this new year, 2024, and encounter the hopes, challenges, ambiguities, injustices, and consolation that it has to offer, I challenge you to join me in taking a few minutes each day to ask yourself, “For what am I grateful”? One resource is a free app called Reimagining the Examen – or you can find a number of other resources just by Googling The Examen. It is my sincere desire that incorporating The Examen into your life will not only allow you to accompany our students and others in our realms of influence with energy, wisdom, and excellence, but that you will allow it to be a transformative experience that offers you a greater sense of joy, peace, contentment, purpose, and meaning in the midst of the storms of this life.



Matt Quick headshot image

Matthew D. Quick Matthew D. Quick serves as the vice president and dean of students at Rockhurst University and is a member of the NASPA James E. Scott Academy Board.