I have a confession to make. I need to be more grateful. Over this past year I’ve spent a lot of time fretting over what I can’t do, lamenting what I can’t have, and wishing I could see the people I love unmasked and indoors. This month will mark a full year since we have worshiped in our sanctuary. It has been hard for me and I know it has been hard for all of you too. The sacrifices we have made in our personal and corporate lives over this past year, while important and necessary, have been costly. Yet what I’m beginning to truly lament is my attitude and the time I wasted fretting. I wish I had spent more time over this past year being grateful and living in the present.
One of my favorite Biblical figures is the Apostle Paul. He suffered so much for God but he made sure that his suffering only increased his joy. He didn’t waste time fretting. In Philippians 1:12-14 he says,
“I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually
helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole
imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and
most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my
imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.”
Paul could have allowed his imprisonment to make him bitter and resentful, but instead, he viewed his circumstances as an opportunity to continue his ministry in new ways. Had he not been imprisoned, he could not have spread the Gospel where he did. Not only did Paul follow God’s leading to seize new opportunities but joy and love overflowed from him.
It took me a year but I’m finally able to start seeing some of the blessings that have sprouted even from the barren ground of suffering. I’ve gotten to spend so much time watching my daughter grow up. With no child care, we have spent so much time together. I treasure every second with her because someday soon she will be off to school for most of the day. Our family decided to hold Christmas entirely outdoors. It wasn’t anything like what I wanted, but my grandparents bent over backwards to make it fun by organizing unforgettable experiences like a family scavenger hunt. I’m glad we kept one another safe and I’ll never forget the fun we had as well as the memories we made. This year has forced me to slow down, to really reflect, and to work on my relationship with God. If life had not slowed down, I would not have taken the time to get more in touch with myself and with God.
As a church family, we have expanded our understanding of what it means to be “together.” Last summer we worshiped outside because it’s safer than being indoors. We also have found togetherness online and grown our digital presence. We played bingo in the parking lot! We kept the Blessing Box stuffed full for those in need. Younger members have gone grocery shopping for older members. The deacons and our administrative assistant have become experts at delivering communion bread and other worship supplies. We spread the message of Jesus’ birth through new outdoor Christmas decorations. We’ve stuck together and even added some new folks to our family who found us online.
There is much to lament about the physical separation over the past year. Isolation and loneliness have been tough, even devastating at times. But social distancing has kept people safe and alive and we can give thanks in our suffering knowing that our sacrifices have been worth it. I also am grateful for what we have learned over the past year that we would not have learned otherwise. Or, it may have taken us many more years to learn these lessons. For a church that values its physical building so much, this year has taught us that with or without a building, we are still the church. This year has taught us that when we move outside of the building, whether that be to the parking lot or onto the internet, we’re more likely to meet new people and grow the church than if we just stay inside our four walls. And most importantly, we’ve been reminded that wherever we go, God is truly with us, and we really love and care about one another. I’m not grateful for the pandemic and all the suffering it has caused, but I am grateful for how God has used this time to teach us new things, force us to grow in new ways, and remind us of God’s faithfulness. I wish I had spent more of the past year being open to what God wants to teach me instead of focusing on getting back to normal as fast as possible and before it’s truly safe.
We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The “new normal” is coming closer each day, with each vaccine needle that goes into each arm, but we’re not there yet. In the time that remains until the “new normal” arrives, let’s focus on gratitude and on Paul’s example of joy. He says, “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel.” May we have a similar tone and remark with similar joy, “What has happened to us has actually made us stronger, broadened our horizons, and shown us new possibilities for ministry…” Joy and love in the midst of suffering is not easy, but it’s deeply Biblical, and it’s a way of life to aspire to. Let’s walk the road of gratitude and joy together.
- Pastor Tim