As with most things in 2020, this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations may look different. You may not gather in the same places or in the same ways. Some of your family may be unable to travel, and you may be attending “virtual” Thanksgivings. Many stores on “Black Friday” will be closed (which may not be a bad thing!)
We can be tempted to think of how much is different, how much we’ve lost, how much further we have to go until the pandemic is over; and as a result feel like there is no reason to be thankful this year. But, as Christians, our gratitude is not tied to “everything going right.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul urges us to “give thanks in every circumstance.” We are called to look for the good in every moment, and be grateful as a result.
Here are some ways I’ve found gratitude in the midst of challenging circumstances.
Family: this has been a difficult year for my family. As you know I lost my father in April, and in October my nephew died after a life-long battle with Muscular Dystrophy. Both of these men, in their own ways. shaped me into who I am, and I miss them deeply. And yet, our family has drawn closer together through these losses and we’ve leaned on each other to draw strength. As a result of the pandemic we’ve spent more time at home with the kids, eaten more dinners together, and played in the yard until dark. I am grateful for my family.
Faith: this has been the most challenging year of ministry I’ve ever had. And yet, I’m amazed at the resiliency of the Christian faith. Growing up, we always sang the song, “the church is not a building…the church is the people.” And this year we’ve been asked if we really believe that! I’ve seen people of all ages connect online and participate in drive-thru mission events. When we did return to limited in-person activities, I’ve seen people graciously honor one another by wearing masks, bumping elbows, and waving ecstatically since no one can see our smiles. We’ve loved our neighbors by doing our best to keep others safe. We’ve continued to worship God in our sanctuary, worship center, and in hundreds of homes across Clinton and beyond. When the conveniences of our faith are stripped away, we often see the reality beneath. And I’ve seen a deeper faith in Jesus emerge among so many this year. I am grateful for our faith.
Future: I believe that we have a future. This is not a “gut feeling” but a deep trust in the promises of God. I know that most of us are ready for 2020 to be over: no more pandemic, no more shutdowns, no more politics! But I’m ready for the future for a different reason. I’m excited for the opportunities we will have in the future, if we’re willing to remember the lessons we’ve learned. We have learned to use technology to share the Gospel and connect with people who may have never crossed our threshold. We’ve learned to be more flexible, less rigid, and more understanding when things don’t go “just right.” We’ve learned that it’s ok not to have every single night of our weeks jammed pack with “stuff” and it’s actually refreshing to not be so busy. We’ve learned that life can change in an instant, and so we should savor each moment with family and friends. I can’t change the past, but I can change my priorities moving forward. I am grateful for the future.
In all these circumstances, I choose to give thanks. For my family, for the Faith, and for our future, I am truly grateful. I challenge each of you, somewhere between your turkey and your nap, to pause and reflect on what you are grateful for this year. It may be more challenging, but I imagine it will be more honest.
Grace and Peace,