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Entering a New Year with Gratitude (December 29, 2017)

I have a friend who tells a story about one of his friends. He once asked his friend, “How are you doing?” To which the friend replies, “I’m grateful.” It caught my friend by surprise the first time…and the second and third as well.

As I reflect on that, what strikes me is the simplicity and power of it—I’m grateful. Gratitude is a choice. This is the way I choose to see the world. I choose to see the blessings in my life, to name them, and to express my gratitude for all those blessings. I choose to live my life this way, and not another.

It is entirely possible for us to choose other ways to see the world. We can, like many who scan the headlines, choose to see the world as a scary place. Some people want to protect themselves and feel more secure, because they see the world as a place of danger—so they live in gated communities and fill their houses with security measures designed to keep others out. Some people see the world as a place of scarcity—life is a zero–sum game, so we have to get everything we can while we can, and hoard it for ourselves.

On the other hand, there are many people for whom life truly is very difficult—refugees, poor and homeless people, people with mental health issues, people who are bullied because they are different, people who are subject to panic attacks or filled with anxiety. For people like these, life truly is very difficult and painful. I’m not writing this column about them.

But there are many of us who have a choice about who we look at the world. We choose to see the world in a certain way. I choose to be grateful. Others don’t. They choose to be afraid … or insecure … or angry … or overly careful. And it’s true that we can find all kinds of reasons to be angry or frustrated with life. We can find all kinds of reasons to view the world as a place of regret and pain. Many of us have been hurt by others, hurt by life, and we think we have good reason to be careful.

There are good reasons for those emotions.

But I believe that to live in such a way that we weave a hard shell around our lives limits us. I believe we can choose how much time we give each of those emotions on the stages of our lives. We choose how much energy and time we give to those emotions.

As we face a new year in our lives and in the life of the world, I can honestly say, “I am grateful.” In some ways, 2017 was a difficult year for me. Some people I loved have died. I have had some losses. I’m alone now after the death of my wife two years ago, and I’ve had to learn new ways of living. I’m getting older, which brings its own set of challenges (as many of you know).

Nevertheless, I enter a new year with a deep sense of gratitude. That doesn’t mean that everything is going to be peaches and cream. I have some worries about the future. Even so, I choose to face the world with confidence and hope. Above all, I come into 2018 able to say, “I am grateful.”

There are so many things for which I am grateful:

  • I have friends who love me, and who provide moments of laughter and joy and grace in my life;
  • I have people in my life about whom I care, and whom I can help, people to whom I can give myself;
  • I have meaningful work to do, and I have gifts and skills which touch the lives of other people in helpful and healthy ways;
  • I have a faith which sustains me and deepens my joy when life is good, which bears me up when life is challenging, and which encourages me to reach out to be a force for good wherever I find myself;
  • I have a relationship with people who don’t share my faith, and who challenge me to articulate why faith sustains me as it does;
  • I have enough. I have enough money to provide for what I need, enough to give much of it away, and some left over to buy what I want; I have enough time to do what is important to me and what is helpful to people around me; I have energy (although less than when I was younger) to accomplish what I wish to complete.

For all of this, and more … I am grateful. As I enter 2018, it strikes me that this feels immensely good. And my response, my very personal response to this is, “Thanks be to God.”

Rev. Yme Woensdregt