Recently a customary “How ya doin?” greeting from an acquaintance brought out of me a surprising, unexpected, unwanted, and unpleasant response. It was followed immediately by my apology, and my explanation that I’m only human, and I wake up each morning, and sometimes in the middle of the night, mindful of the problems we are all facing, such as:
>The COVID-19 pandemic affecting everything and everyone unlike anything I have experienced. 165,000+ premature deaths of dear loved ones; at least triple the number it should have been if only we had been prepared. This really breaks my heart, as I wonder if some of the dystopian science fiction books and dramas aren’t so fictional, but might be prophetic. I ache inside as I wonder what kind of world our dear Grandchildren will have.
>Broken government, broken economy, broken dreams, broken spirits, and the ones who pay the most for the politicians fighting each other instead of serving for the good of this country are those who were already at or near the bottom, as the needy become more needy.
>And then there’s just the normal growing older stuff of more doctor visits for this, that and the other thing, more pains and problems, forcing us to make more adjustments to living this life, more mindful that the finish line is ever closer.
I know many of you know what I’m talking about. I know my kind of “funk” is something only the blind would not see and the deaf not hear. We’re all going through a very challenging, stressful time, like a dark veil covering over everything with anxiety, stress, weariness, worry, tension, and fear.
Then my “funk” was interrupted when out of the blue two cherished friends on my life’s spiritual journey showed up. The first was a dorm friend from
my freshman year at Moravian College. I had not seen Fred for 45 years! I was in my study in the church office when Abby called into me that Dave Summers had just stopped by. I went out to join the happy re-connection with this dear brother in Christ, and beloved former pastor here in Lititz. I’ve always enjoyed times with Dave, and greeted him COVID-19 style, wearing a mask and distancing.
But right after I greeted Dave, the door behind him opened and in walked someone who was spending the day with Dave, seeing the sites of Lititz. I hollered “Fred!” He was masked, and he was 45 years older than when I last saw him, but I knew right away it was my college friend, from 45 years ago! We had a joyful reunion, sharing stories, laughs, and how life has been for each of us. What a blessing and joy it was! How the darkness of our days was dispersed by the light of our reunion.
After about 15 to 20 minutes I told Fred, “You probably don’t know this, but I’m here as a pastor in large part because of you. And I am so happy to thank you for sharing your faith with me one day, 45 years ago.” He asked, “I probably gave you some gospel tracts, and a book, didn’t I?”
“Yes,,” I said, “but I remember so clearly when you said that since I had seen you last, you had become a Christian, and it has made all the difference in the world to you. I could clearly see that difference, and I wanted it too.”
The timing was right. I had been seeking to know if there was a loving God. I read what he gave me and I knew this is what my heart was seeking. God’s gift of Jesus was mine if I would reach out to receive God’s priceless gift of new life. Within a few days my heart was strangely warmed, as I followed the steps of a Billy Graham tract Fred gave me, and I committed my life to follow and serve the Lord. I still have that tract in my old Bible, and I still am serving the Lord!
The other friend who helped pull me from my “funk” is someone who never knew me! But he was a friend to me through many of the 39 books he published. Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer, and theologian whose spiritual writings weave together psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice, and community.
Just this past week, he paid me a surprise visit, when I was looking for something else on the internet and came across an article he wrote. Nouwen always spoke to me in my spiritual seeking, and remains one of my favorite authors. Yet, I hadn’t read a book of his in years. Then last week this article he wrote on gratitude brought the gift of his keen insight into my COVID-19 “funk” and lifted the dark cloud overhead.
Excerpts from Spiritual Formation
by Henri Nouwen.
Gratitude is more than an occasional ‘thanks be to God.’ Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve.
When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope. The great paradox of ministry is that when we minister in our weakness, we receive from those to whom we go. The more in touch we are with our own need for healing and salvation, the more open we are to receiving in gratitude what others have to offer us.
Moving from Resentment to Gratitude
Moving away from resentment requires moving toward something more life giving, and that something is the attitude of gratitude. Resentment blocks action; gratitude lets us move forward toward new possibilities. Resentment makes us cling to negative feelings; gratitude allows us to let go. Resentment makes us prisoners of our passions. Gratitude helps us to transcend our compulsions to follow our vocation. Resentment exhausts us by complicated jealousies and ambiguities, stirring up destructive desires for revenge. Gratitude takes our fatigue away and gives us new vitality and enthusiasm. Resentment entangles us in endless distractions, pulling us down to banal preoccupations. Gratitude anchors our deepest self beyond this world and allows us to be involved without losing ourselves.
But once we confess our resentments within a safe and supportive faith community, we create space for forgiveness and freedom. When this happens, God’s liberating grace is able to make all things new. We learn how to sing a new song and develop a new spirit of thanksgiving in which all of life can be received as a gift.
Spiritual formation is the way by which resentment can slowly be transformed into gratitude. Through the spiritual practice of letting go of jealousy and bitterness and forgiving and affirming others, we can make rivals into friends and competitors into companions on the way to true greatness. Servanthood might sound like a pious idea, but it really asks for the humble recognition that our life is not our own to be defended but a gift to be shared.
All we have has been given to us. Our part is to be grateful and to give thanks.
Two surprise visits
of cherished friends!
One refreshed, recharged, follower of Jesus!