GROWING IN GRACE
By the time you read this column we will be about 36 hours away from the end of this presidential election cycle. And I’m sure I’m not the first (or only) one to say: thank God!
2016 has felt like a year filled with picking sides, waging wars of words on those with whom we don’t agree, and questioning the very things that hold us all together. Presidential election cycles have a magical way of sowing seeds of division. But for Methodists, General Conference 2016 followed the same pattern of dysfunction and mistrust: we pick sides, we “tweet” and “share” and write “open letters” about all the things we don’t agree with. We pout when we don’t “win” and gloat when we do. All the while we grow more cynical inside. We don’t trust the things that are supposed to hold us together, things like the “Book of Discipline,” a shared sense of mission, or even our bishops.
I don’t know about you, but some days the chaos and dysfunction of it all just makes me sad and tired. Where has our sense of hope gone? Where’s the optimism that says, “things aren’t perfect, but with God’s help we can go on toward perfection?”
A friend recently reminded me of a wonderful social media practice that I’ve seen over the last few years where the month of November becomes a month of gratitude. Some call it the “30-Day Gratitude Project.” The goal for the month is to find something every day that you’re grateful for and take a picture and/or write a post about it on Facebook. I’ve always loved seeing people post their gratitude for things as big as the love of family and friends or as seemingly small as a good cup of coffee.
We need more gratitude in our lives. And in these seasons of dysfunction, where tempers flare and negativity runs at an all-time high, we especially need to remember to be grateful. Writer Anne Lamott writes that, “gratitude is a magnetic energy that draws people to us.” I think that’s true. It’s a heck of a lot more effective than just being a big ball of anger, spewing negative opinions all the time.
But even more, gratitude reminds us of our interconnectedness to one another. Being grateful means remembering that we need each other. Life doesn’t happen in isolation. God puts us all together for a reason – even with our different opinions on theology, politics, and life. One of my new favorite shows on television, “This Is Us”, had a profound line in a recent episode. One of the characters was trying to explain this interconnectedness to his nieces and said, “…we realize there’s no you, or me, or them – there’s just us.”
I’ll do my best to write about things I’m grateful for every day this month. I’ll do it because after this election season and in the midst of our denominational turmoil, my soul needs the sort of cleansing that a month gratitude can offer. I’ll do it because every now and then I need to be reminded that, by God’s amazing grace, my life is connected to the lives of all sorts of people – some I agree with more than others – but all made in the image of God. I’ll do this project because when I look beyond my own opinions and soap boxes, I’m able to catch a glimpse of God’s amazing grace that gives me so much. The least I can do is share this with others.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at email@example.com.