2017: My Conversion From Optimist to Grateful
“No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.” Elie Wiesel, Night
If you have read the book Night you will know that Elie Wiesel, as a young boy, watched his family perish at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. After this experience, he left the Jewish faith and declared himself an atheist.
Amazing, then, that he brings up the subject of gratitude. And, that he speaks of its importance. In another place, in his book, he says that our humanity is incomplete without gratitude. He also makes the point that gratitude comes on the heels of suffering. Then, on top of it all, he uses uniquely Biblical language—grace; offering, and a kind of sharing that indicates that our lives no longer belong to us! We would call it a yielding of self for others, a sacrificial love.
If he was an atheist, he spoke with more understanding about giving thanks than most religious people do.
I was born to an eternally optimistic mother. Nothing could keep her down for long or deter her spirit. She was a survivor of the depression, of the Second World War and I think she modeled herself after Eleanor Roosevelt. But all of the optimism in the world did not make for grateful—in any of her children. We sometimes imitate her optimism in a “c’mon, we can make it through this if we all just give it the ole college try.” (one of my mother’s sayings) But this is not gratitude.
For me, this has come as it did for Mr. Wiesel, emerging through the kingdom of night. It has been in the darkness when I can no longer see, when there has been no one around to help, and when optimism is nothing but a lie because you are dying of cancer or you are holding a dead child or you have made a mistake that feels permanently damning.
When I was ten or so I started experiencing this. I believed there was a God but I did not know who he was. Yet in the darkness of my spirit, I would lay on my bed and in those moments cry and beg him to help me because I was sure that if he didn’t the darkness would consume me. I did this for eight years.
Then He came for me. It remains the most shocking part of my story. The Lord heard my cries—those of a desperate, lost eighteen-year-old man—and he made me his son. I still can’t get over it. It is what I am most grateful for in my life.
I decided to write this because this is the season of giving thanks and gratitude. Then I realized that this past year has been one of the hardest I have ever been through. Sometimes I feel as if it has been one long “kingdom of night.” Even so, what emerges from these days and before my eyes is gratitude. And for me, not to share them would be my betrayal of them. For in truth, they do not belong to me but to all of you who travel with me.
Here are a few things I have been particularly grateful for this past year.
- The way Paul Smallman so seamlessly took up the position of being our music director when Michael left and has only made us a better worshipping community than we hoped to be. Paul’s talents, character, and faithfulness were more than we asked for or imagined from God.
- The way you, the congregation, prayed for me when I was diagnosed and was treated for cancer. It was overwhelming. It was palpable—like I was being carried along by all of you. In that entire ordeal, even when the news was bad, I felt the covering of God’s people. And, I believe that the good outcome I received is a result of the prayers of God’s people on my behalf.
- The honesty of my wife at the end of June; the honesty of my counselor at the end of June; and the honesty of some of you at the end of June; all of which spoke to a particular issue of mine that was causing relational trouble. This sent me into my vacation with much to think on; meditate on, and some hard moments in the New Mexico desert wondering at my age what repentance looks like. I came back extremely grateful for it all.
- Finally, and most recently, on a day when I thought that for many reasons I just no longer had the stamina to carry the workload as pastor of East Lake, God, on that same day, orchestrated a plan by which one of our own elders, Scott Schindler, would be hired as our full-time executive director of administration for a seven month period. The elders, the personnel, and finance committees all endorsed this plan and produced a job description within a week. So, on November 27th, Scott will inaugurate this new position. In my twenty years plus at New City Fellowship I have never had administrative help. Given the nature of our ministry, our needs both internally and externally, and my working so long in a state of being overwhelmed, I am not only grateful, I can’t believe it is happening.
“I will praise you, O Lord my God with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.For great is your love toward me; you delivered me from the depths of the grave.” Psalm 86:12,13