Back in 1952, President Harry S. Truman declared that the American people should spend one day a year praying or meditating on their faith. At the time, he named July 4 the National Day of Prayer, but it's since been moved to the first Thursday in May. (We're willing to go out on a limb and say July 4 was probably already a pretty popular day for Americans to engage in other kinds of activities.)
We don't get to look forward to a day off this Thursday, as the National Day of Prayer isn't a public holiday, but it's still customary for the president to issue a proclamation recognizing and honoring the day. Historically, these statements have emphasized the importance of prayer across faiths, and have called on the public to find common ground in their varying beliefs.
In 2015, for example, President Obama said, "When we pray, we are reminded that we are not alone — our hope is a common hope, our pain is shared, and we are all children of God."
This message is similar in theme to President Reagan's 1983 address: "This nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future."
As a subject, religion is often considered divisive — even taboo. The National Day of Prayer is meant to remind Americans that faith doesn't have to be a point of conflict. Instead, it can be a part of our identities that we share with others if we wish.
Across faiths, prayer does the same thing: It brings people hope, allows them to give thanks, and helps guide their actions. So, on Thursday, people of all religious backgrounds will be invited to pray with their community or by themselves. That might mean anything from attending a traditional service or just sitting alone for a while.
Most importantly, this day is also a celebration of all the different ways people choose to pray and be spiritual. If you've been thinking about reconnecting or recommitting to your own faith, this might be the sign you're looking for.