By Rev. Lynette S. Moran, for the Abundant Health Team
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
-- Psalm 126
I write this as a long and contentious election process comes to an end …. as COVID continues to hold homes and hospitals hostage… as children remain at home, endlessly at home, while caregivers juggle work with schooling and the weather keeps them indoors more and more...after Annual conferences convened apart in a denomination that connects, and heavy decisions were delayed with a postponed quadrennial conference...
I write this as families stumbled through the holiday season on budgets that reflect months of unemployment barely behind them or still burdening their shoulders… as housing and utility moratoriums end dates loom and the bills kicked down the road get closer to coming due with each day that passes… as we cancel gatherings and rituals and saw empty chairs at holiday dinner tables… as our loved ones in nursing homes approach 11 months of isolation…
When times get particularly challenging, we often lean on some fairly reliable buoys: My family is healthy, our jobs are stable, I’m surrounded by family and friends and church, and so on. But many of the things we most often lean on for reprieve are now also sources of stress. Even Mr. Rogers, with his guidance for preschoolers to “look to the helpers,” is a conundrum when adults can’t even agree on who the helpers are or what they should do to help!
It might seem strange to spend so much time listing sorrows in a post about gratitude. But our losses are so profound partly because the joys we have become accustomed to are usually so great. Our sorrows are deeply tied to our joys—as Psalm 126 says, our tears fall to the ground as we sow our future joys.
I got a good chuckle out of the “Is it 2021 yet?” memes on social media and turning on the Christmas tunes early to shuffle the end of 2020 through already. But we miss out on something important if we just hustle through the hard days without looking them in the eye. Grief-focused psychotherapist Francis Weller says it well:
The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.
The trouble with rushing into 2021 is we overlooked how 2020 helped make us who we have become. Being distracted with the enticing possibilities of 2021, we miss out on seeing how God was with us in 2020, and who God called us to be in these times of crisis. We lose the chance to feel around in the sacred dark where we find that, even there and even still, our God is with us. We miss out on the humble reckoning that a year’s harvest is not always plentiful in worldly comfort.
We miss out on the opportunity to be remade in times of grief, broken apart and reassembled (as Weller says).
Ask any athlete or scholar or anyone at the top of their game. To perform with endurance requires the hard work and habit of sustaining difficult training. By skipping out of 2020 and focusing on 2021, we miss out on the active, daily exercise of hope in the Lord that keeps us from growing weary.
So as I bask in sorrow and gratitude, I wish for you wonder at the here and now. I pray for your solace. As our griefs seem excessive, I pray for you abundant gratitude.