The New Year has never really felt like a natural time to make a big change to me. There are other rhythms in my life that personally make more sense – for example, Lent and the start of Fall have always been significant for me. The last “new year’s resolution” I can remember making was when I was 13, when I gave up soda for a year (and I haven’t really had any since, so maybe they aren’t all bad).
But, one thing I have always been drawn toward on December 31st, is picking a “word” for the following year. Some of the words I remember over the years have been: “expectancy”, “bold”, “growth”, “thrive”. It isn’t so much of a forcing of something new I want to have happen, but rather a theme that I have noticed creeping up over the past few months that I want to embrace and explore.
This year, I am feeling pulled toward the word “gratitude”.
This picture is of my first real tattoo (I’m not counting the small heart I got when I was 18 out of teenage rebellion that you can only see when I’m in a bikini): the word “eucharisteo”.
I was on an Ann Voskamp kick back in the day, and read her book “1000 Gifts” with a group of women. The book is about her own inspiration by this word to list 1000 things she is thankful for. Much of this book would probably bother me now, but she shares her finding of this word in an account of Jesus in the Bible, where he takes bread, breaks it and gives thanks (this last part, “gave thanks” is translated from the Greek, “eucharisteo”). The root of this word encompasses both the Greek for “grace” (Charis) and it’s derivative, Chará, for “joy”. Voskamp explains it as a sort of noticing and giving of thanks and finding the gift and the joy to be had in it all. It serves for me as an incredibly simple reminder of thankfulness and joy in the everyday and mundane. This practice, the remembering and giving thanks, is a central theme and regular practice of Christ-followers: to come to the table and remember.
There have been many, many times when I have not wanted anything to do with the church or God or religion. And probably, there still will be. But, over the years, I have come to realize something: it isn’t that I don’t believe in it anymore, but rather, that I believe in it too much.
I believe in hope and redemption and healing.
I believe in light overtaking darkness and love winning out in the best and worst of circumstances.
I believe in gratitude and joy in the midst of suffering and I recognize that I have never really experienced this, because while pain has existed in my life, I have been born with privilege. I grew up in a world wading through a culture full of messages encouraging consumption and greed and wondering why everything seems and feels so fake, including the Western Church. It turns out that a lot of this is just that life is kind of messy and we may always run into things not turning out to be what they claim. But man, am I hungry for authenticity.
And if the church – not the four walls, not the programs and robes and chalices and banners, but rather the people ignited with and walking the world together with hope and healing in their chest and arms, ready to embrace the most rejected in the world with truthful compassion – is really a city of light bringing love and restoration to a world aching from hate and greed, I want to be a part of that. But it takes work to really enter into it – being a passive bystander doesn’t cut it.
And maybe, this act of gratitude, has a lot to do with that. Because when we are so distracted with what we don’t have, what hasn’t happened yet, what is making our own lives complicated, we forget to look around and see what is actually going on in the world.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to live a life and look back and see how little most of it mattered and how little I did for others.
A life drenched in gratitude gives us perspective, and hopefully propels us toward whatever good is in front of us to engage in. Because maybe life isn’t so much about a measureable to-do list that some critical voice inside nags us to accomplish – but rather, entering into a way of living each day that gives us a greater capacity to really SEE and enter into beauty and bring some sort of healing to ourselves and the world around us.
Maybe this is being the church. Maybe this is embodying the message of a rabbi who broke bread and saw the gift and the joy and couldn’t help but walk the world with compassionate feet. Maybe if we can walk the earth with those feet, we will leave an imprint of love wherever we wander.