This was a weird year. The virus pushed us to into unchartered waters. There has been much disruption in our lives, disruption that we experience as loss. We miss so much of what life was like before. It may be an emotional strain to celebrate in different ways than we have in the past. As I think about the challenges, I find comfort in the prayers I heard from my African-American church family. They have not been strangers to adversity and I learned from their example.
Each breath that we take is a gift from God. Every morning is a new gift. I love how my African American friends begin prayer by thanking God for waking them up and giving them another day. It was a phrase I had never prayed before I was welcomed into their community. My friends would spend time with this thought, telling God how they know that not everyone received another day, and today is a gift we don’t want to take for granted. In a year with thousands dying from disease, the prayer made me pause and consider all the blessings for which I fail to give thanks. A new day, good health, food on the table, caring relationships, a faith community, and opportunities to serve are all precious gifts from God’s hand. None of it is to be taken for granted, but instead should be named and acknowledged for the gifts that they are.
The prayers of my friends noticed their surroundings. They witnessed the excitement of the children and the tears of a grieving mother. They experienced the current moment fully. The prayers of my Black friends taught me to pause and notice what was going on. It is too easy to go through the motions of a day without actually being fully present in the moments. We miss much of the happenings around us as we focus on completing the next task and rushing to the task after that. We can be preoccupied with the experiences of the past hurts and worried about future challenges. A focus on the past or the future can rob us from being fully tuned into the blessings of the moment. Yet the only place where we can meet God and delight in his presence is in the here and now. Their prayers acknowledged that God is here in this moment with us and he sees us and meets us in the moment.
My friends on the southside of Chicago enlisted their senses to find delight in the moment. They acknowledge the good smells from the kitchen, the laughter of being together, and the weariness and cold hands of those waiting outdoors for the food pantry. Connecting with God in the present requires that we tune into the moment to take in all that is happening around us. Noticing God’s good gifts helps us to understand God’s gracious character. Scripture tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Let your eyes take in the details of the scene, listen to each sound within your hearing. Let your senses of smells and taste help you capture the details of the moments. Our senses are gifts from God for helping us experience God’s blessings.
“Lord you are good and you treat me better than I deserve.” The prayers of my friends acknowledge our place before God. In prayer, they recognize that they were not entitled to any of the blessings that they enjoy--each one is a precious gift. God did not have to show up like he did but what a delight that he does.
As we dwell in the present with God, we can name our concerns and place them at his feet. Ms. Watts would pray with confidence saying, “Lord you know the pain I feel in my body and you gave me the strength to get here today. I know you love me and you will do right by me.” It was a beautiful acknowledgement of the reality of pain while also naming God’s provision. Like the Psalmists, her prayer anchors her hope in our God who loves and provides. She puts her pain in perspective, grateful for what she has even as faces limitations. “Lord we don’t know how to fix things, but we know you are the one who can.”
“Thank you Lord, thank you Lord!” Prayers in our church community overflowed with gratitude. In the mornings we would gather with the homeless in the park to share a time of worship to begin our day. Even those who appeared to have so little to call their own could recite God’s promises and give him thanks. Our situation may feel stressful this year, but we can learn from those who have learned contentment through difficult circumstances. Every difficulty we face is not as big as our awesome God. With a heart filled with gratitude, we can open our hearts to care for others and be channels of God’s grace.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Travis Jamieson