Why did we choose the hashtag “living in gratitude” as a signature phrase? At heart, it sums up for me the daily choice to give thanks in all circumstances, because God is good, all the time.
One of the honors I’ve had is the ability to travel to different parts of the world and interact with many cultures and ethnicities. I’ve seen what many Americans have seen: people living in much harder circumstances than the ones I do filled with joy and gratitude. So often, we focus on what we do not have, on the things we wish were different, on the ways we would improve ourselves and the people around us. Instead, I have been taught to count the blessings I have received, which are numerous! I’ve learned to look for the possibilities and the bright spots instead of the difficulties and the barriers.
Think about a dark spot on a bright sheet of paper. You could even draw one if that would make it easier to visualize. If you focus your gaze on the dark spot, it overwhelms your vision. It seems larger than the bright space surrounding it, dominating your entire perspective. But if you pull back, acknowledging the dark spot within the larger shining field without focusing on it, you begin to see that there’s more space for light to shine through.
This is what living in gratitude means to me. Acknowledging the challenges, the injustices, the places where the world is simply broken and where we are broken too, but not allowing that alone to fill my vision. There is more. God is at work in our midst. Jesus is still Savior and Lord. The Spirit is on the move, more powerfully than we often suspect.
On Christmas Day, I slipped on ice and went down hard, with my left hand making first contact with the frozen ground. It was clear immediately that I had injured myself. X-rays revealed a fractured radius which, I learned later, meant wearing a cast above the elbow for at least four weeks.
There’s more than enough to be frustrated about with this situation. I can’t scratch my nose with my left hand, and getting comfortable anywhere is challenging. But there’s so much more to be grateful for, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on. I didn’t need surgery. I didn’t hit my head, or injure myself worse. I have a loving spouse who loves to cook and doesn’t mind doing the dishes too. It’s my left hand instead of my right hand. The list goes on and on. In fact, the list of things I can be grateful about is so much longer than the inconveniences and difficulties, it’s not hard to remember to be grateful when I start to feel down. Focusing on the bright space surrounding the dark spot. Living in gratitude.
Feeling called by God to stand for co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly alongside Vilmarie is something that fills me with gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to work with and deepen a friendship with an amazing woman following Jesus. Gratitude for the friends and colleagues who see gifts of leadership in me and encourage me to use them. Gratitude for the way the Spirit moves in and through my life, challenging me to follow more deeply and live more faithfully.
Are there dark spots in the church today? In the PCUSA? Are there difficulties and challenges, barriers and brokenness? Yes. Definitely, yes. We have some hard times ahead, and I’m serving two Presbyteries where many of those struggles are obvious and crystallized. Membership declining and aging, churches leaving and closing, ministers struggling to make ends meet and juggling multiple jobs. There are plenty of dark spots.
But there is so much light shining through, too. There are small congregations re-connecting with their neighbors. There are young adults looking for authentic community and finding it in the body of Christ. There are innovative and creative ministries springing up all across the country. There are new partnerships and new worshiping communities and new possibilities. There is a whole lot of bright space where God is doing a new thing in our midst.
This is where my vision rests. This is what I mean when I say I choose to live in gratitude.