Thankfulness in 2020: Where, exactly?!

November 22, 2020

Someone recently remarked that perhaps we shouldn’t celebrate a new year before we have had the chance to see how it plays out; maybe we should celebrate the year after it proves itself – not before.  I

f that were the case, 2020 would perhaps be the least celebrated year ever – but wait.  In the midst of it all, perhaps we think there is nothing to celebrate, but maybe there are some things to give thanks for – even in 2020.  

For many of us, when we gather for Thanksgiving, one of the constants in our celebration – beyond food and football – is taking the time to reflect on what we have been grateful for over the past year.  Scripture says: ‘Rejoice in all things’ (Philippians 4:4-8) and also ‘God can redeem evil for good’ (Genesis 50:20) and there is the divine promise to redeem all things for God’s glory (Romans 8:28).  These words can seem like so much pious white noise unless we are willing to challenge ourselves to look for things to be grateful for in all things – finding gratitude in the midst of chaos can be teachable and transformative! 

So……

This year, with no family around table to share in this challenge of gratitude, I challenge  myself: what am I grateful for in 2020?  How can this acknowledged gratitude teach and transform me?

Right off the bat, I am thankful to have had the unexpected time to meet this Thanksgiving challenge and look for things to be grateful for:

  • For years, in-person interaction has competed with electronic communications.  For 8 months, electronic communication – virtual presence – is pretty much all we have had in order to stay connected.  Now we are on the verge of having virtual Thanksgivings! What has this challenge taught us? How are we transformed?  We long for real and not virtual. Electronic communications are no substitution for the real thing.  I am grateful for the reminder.
  • For decades, if not centuries, we have assumed there is equality for all in America and so many of us have taken our social, cultural, economic, and gender entitlement for granted. For 8 months, we have had the curtain pulled back on the stark realities we have previously ignored and are now confronted by a transformative challenge. Equality is currently a myth. I am grateful for the opportunity to work to make the myth a reality in the days ahead.
  • For as long as I have been alive (a long time), teachers have been an assumed part of the landscape. These past 8 months have brought about a new awareness to us that these underpaid professionals work tirelessly, compassionately, and at great personal sacrifice to care for not only the educational needs of their students, but for their emotional and oftentimes physical needs as well. Educators shouldn’t be expected to ‘go it alone.’ It takes a village to raise a child and we are all part of that village.   I am grateful for this reminder and catalyst to action in 2021.
  • For all of time, ‘essential workers’ have sadly been invisible to those benefiting from their work: first responders, medical professionals, caregivers, government workers at every level, maintenance workers, store personnel, and so many others ! For 8 months the invisible has become profoundly visible. I am grateful for the heightened awareness that essential workers are vital to our continued living and I will work to cherish them and thank them.
  • Even before I began ministry, I heard that ‘pastors only work on Sunday.’ Wrong! Pastoring is a 24/7 opportunity to serve and lead the communities where God has placed them.  During 2020, so many pastors have been maligned and mistreated for ‘not doing enough’ – after all, the buildings are closed, right, so why are the clergy still being paid? As retired clergy, I am grateful to pull back that curtain!  Clergy are continuing to work 24/7 in order to learn how to continue to shepherd their churches and serve their communities, but they were never intended to go this path alone.  Church is about a body of holy participants not a building for wholesale consumers.  This year has been a time for teaching this important truth as congregations come alongside their pastors. I am grateful for the Body of Christ and its many gifted leaders.
  • For the past 8 months, we have seen how intolerant we have become; how angry we become at the smallest slight or disagreement and how relationships suffer. Self-awareness is the beginning of transformation. I am grateful to know where such work is needed in myself!
  • For the past 8 months, we have seen untold destruction in nature: overwhelming fires, unprecedented hurricanes, floods, and erratic weather pattens.  We came face to face with how the air clears when we travel less; we have witnessed the consequences of  the unwise choices of past overbuilding and overcultivation. The future of our planet is dependent on our successful stewardship of the creation God has entrusted to our care.  I am grateful for the mindfulness ‘I’ am part of ‘our.’ 

I have learned so much during the nightmare of 2020. I am grateful that this learning is continuing to transform the way I view the world around me.

I am also grateful for the goodness that is also to be found in the midst of it all:

Food banks. Elder care check ins. Drive-by birthday parties and graduation celebrations. Virtual weddings and celebrations of life services.                  

Exhausted but compassionate medical professionals making ‘good-byes’ possible for       loved ones succumbing to Covid. Teachers doing ‘silly things’ to keep kids engaged while they continue to learn. People re-engaging ‘from a social distance’ with neighbors they had previously driven past without a second thought.

+++

This year has been a nightmare in so many ways.  But God can redeem it.  

God IS redeeming it!

As we learn from our experiences, respond to what has been revealed, and cherish the wonder of creative connection, we can rejoice and begin living transformed and grateful lives as we head toward what awaits us in 2021.

So, what are you grateful for in 2020? 

And to God be the glory! AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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