A Reflection on Gratitude and Giving for the "Season of Giving Thanks":
A Reflection on Gratitude and Giving
The “Season of Giving Thanks” 2022
Other than very long labors, of which Ashley and not I really lived through, the birth of both of our children, Amelia and Mary Ellen, were generally speaking joyous, awe-inspiring and, most importantly, healthy occasions…for which I am so very grateful…especially knowing that is not everyone’s experience…probably not everyone in this rooms experience. However, there was a moment, long into the aforementioned labor during the birth of our first child, Amelia, where Amelia’s heartbeat could no longer be detected. The unexpected moment quickly became utterly chaotic. Within seconds nearly a dozen gifted and skilled medical professionals poured into the room. Ashley was being moved around in her bed…various wires and tubes where being connected to different parts of her body…if not quite what one might call desperation…still an utter sense of heaviness and seriousness came over the room…with nurses jumping into action…medical jargon and equipment flying across the space. I simply did my best to get entirely out of the way. I said nothing. I had no words. I was utterly filled with fear. I have never before or sense felt so entirely powerless…so very vulnerable. Thankfully the nurses were able to correct whatever the presenting issue was. I still don’t know exactly what it was. But things proceeded from there as anticipated, perhaps a little more anxiously, and Amelia was born sometime later…whole and healthy.
Now, that moment remains the moment in my life…when I realized most fully that life is indeed fragile. It is uncertain. It is very vulnerable. My sense of being able to control all outcomes for myself, those I love, and those things connected to me fell utterly to pieces. And, such moments of great vulnerability can and do shape us for good or for ill. For me personally, this experience led me to two possible conclusions. One was to see life, my own and that of those I love, as something to spend the rest of my time on earth fearfully protecting. Things to seek to gain greater control over…such that I might keep undesired outcomes…pain, suffering and loss at bay…even if such power is ultimately an illusion. Such a direction leads one to see enemies or threats around each corner…to avoid risk…to keep life small and within close reach…to see the world as something to fear…to work against…and such fear can become utterly debilitating.
But, as Paul says in his great treatise on the power and promise of love in his first letter to the Corinthians…there is a more excellent way. And, it is the way I have tried to live life, on my best days, when facing my own moments of great vulnerability…and that way is to allow vulnerability to engender deep within us a sense of awe and gratitude rather than fear. Life just is vulnerable and no amount of planning can stop the unexpected from happening. So, again, we can respond by hoarding resources, fearing scarcity, and locking ourselves in a metaphorical closet…or we can see vulnerability as a gift…we can see beauty in the fragility of life…see life as precious in its shortness and unknowability. For this means we have to rely on others which leads to the joy of connection and relationship, and we get to focus on the now and enjoy and make the very most of the present moment with those we get to share it with. Appreciating the vulnerability of life sets us free to revel in the present, make the very most of what and who we have right now…practice joy and empathy right now…revel in the gift and preciousness of life right now.
And, friends, as followers of Jesus, the one who overcame sin and death, we have every reason and all the power and encouragement we need to lean into vulnerability…be bold, take risks, be generous, live a life full of joy, and fearlessly live in the now. For, though we do not know what tomorrow may entirely bring, we know that love has already won…that we have already overcome…that light and life stand, by grace, at the end of our endless day…through Jesus Christ our Lord’s glorious resurrection!
Now, I know that the things I say are, indeed, easier to say than to always live by, including, for me. But, we do have a God given gift to lean on when our experiences of vulnerability allow fear and doubt to creep in. Brene Brown writes, “Men and women who have the capacity to lean fully into joy share one variable in common: They practice gratitude. Vulnerability is real, and we have a physiological response to it—a quiver. Some of us use that quiver as a warning sign to start dress-rehearsing tragedy, while others use it as a reminder to practice gratitude. Now, in those deeply joyful [and vulnerable] moments when I feel the quiver, I literally say, “I’m so grateful for….” And sometimes I say it over and over. It’s changed my life.” Like Brene Brown, I believe it is gratitude that allows us to understand vulnerability as a gift to be welcomed…to see the fragility of life as an invitation to fully lean into, find joy, and do the most good we can in the present…trusting that love is the great ordering principle in our universe and giving thanks that God has us in God’s everlasting arms and will never let us go.
And so, though today I am asking you to think not just about this moment but all the moments that will make up the coming year, I ask that you do so prayerfully considering how God is inviting you to help make the very most of all the now’s we will get to share together…to be bold and generous with all that makes up your life in and through St. Julian’s. Friends, St. Julian’s is a living thing. It is vulnerable and fragile and precious…and if that vulnerability leads us to gratitude…a gratitude that looks like something…like sowing our whole selves, time and resources, into this family of faith we share in each present moment we share it…it will change our life...and not ours alone…but all those fragile and precious lives that have been and will continue to be trusted into our care. We will all be birthed, whole and healthy, from glory into glory. Amen.