During the month of November, a variety of voices from around our Conference will be sharing the weekly Let’s Talk column around a thematic focus of gratitude. This week’s columnist is the Rev. Dan Wysong, pastor & teacher of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Woodland.
There are few things I love more than getting out into the wilderness. Whether hiking beside a stream or climbing up the side of a mountain, being surrounded by beauty, moving my body – hearing, seeing, smelling, touching the earth makes me feel like I am part of all of it. These are often the times I feel most alive. They are also often the times I feel most grateful.
Unless I am fixated on reaching a goal: like the summit of a mountain or getting back to the car. If I get too wrapped up in a destination being the point, I tend to neglect the present. I can spend my focus wishing I was at the end, instead of being grateful for where I am, and the path that has led me here.
I think the trail is a decent metaphor for our lives and our spiritual journeys as well: most of us have traveled far. I’m sure we all have far to go as well. On our journeys, it can be easy to get frustrated with how long it may have taken us to get where we are. We can look back with resentment at the wrong turns we took, or the time we may spent in places that seemed ok at the time, but we now realize weren’t where we wanted to stay.
We can look back wishing those places would have been better, that those people wouldn’t have hurt us so deeply, or that we would have left sooner. But none of those wishes change the past, and they can make us turn bitter.
I spent the first four decades of my life in a faith tradition (Seventh-day Adventism) that saw itself as the pinnacle of the mountain: the highest point that could be attained. It took me a lot longer to move on than I wish. The institution and culture are often narrow-minded and incredibly resistant to growth.
But like a trail, I can look back cultivating bitterness or cultivating gratitude. Because just like on a trail, that which is in our past is precisely what has both led us to where we are and helped shape us into become who we are becoming.
The places and communities we’ve spent time in have taught us lessons, enabled our growth, and helped our evolution towards becoming wiser, kinder, more inclusive people. The only way to learn anything is through trial and error – and I believe it is unlikely we would have learned much of what we know without some of the heartaches and missteps of our past.
For me at least, there have always been loving and well-meaning people at every stage of my journey, willing to walk beside me and keep company. For this I am grateful.
There have always been weekly gatherings of human beings willing to show up for one another, attempt to take care of each other, and try and make the world a better place. For this I am grateful.
I was given a deep familiarity with Scripture, without which I never would have learned to see it differently or been able to evolve into a much more nuanced approach. For this I am grateful.
I got to experience a weekly Sabbath – a time to stop being a human-doing and prioritize human-being. For this I am grateful.
Even some of the sharpest wounds have given me an understanding of reality and what matters most in protecting and including each human being that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. For this I am grateful.
For all of us, the narratives we choose to use in making sense of our past communities and our past selves will lead us toward becoming bitter, or becoming better. We can choose to show gratitude and grace toward both. They have gotten us to where we are.
For this, we can be grateful.