"Gratitude & Grief"
In November, I often write to you about cultivating a practice of gratitude. As the days grow shorter and we prepare for Thanksgiving, it’s a natural time to count our blessings. We have so much to be grateful for, even in the midst of all of the challenges and heartbreak of 2020. This year, I also want to encourage you to make time for grief, even as you lean into your gratitude.
Each year on All Saints Day, we pause to remember those who have gone before us in faith. At our outdoor worship service on November 1, we will call the names of those in our church family who have died in the last year. As we mourn their deaths and offer our gratitude for their lives, we hold their loved ones close in our hearts, especially in a year when our rituals of grief and mourning have been limited.
But the grief of losing a loved one isn’t the only grief we are carrying this year. There are many other ways we have experienced grief and loss. We have lost jobs, homes, and dreams for the future. We’ve lost the ability to be physically present with our loved ones, unable to visit elderly relatives or hold new babies. We have lost long-anticipated trips, weddings, celebrations, graduations, and more. As we enter the holiday season, many of us are actively pre-grieving our family holiday gatherings and traditions, which will look different this year. And of course, we’ve lost our regular everyday routines, including our time as a church family on Sundays to worship and share our lives together.
If you’ve not yet taken time to sit with the grief of 2020, I encourage you to do so. I know it can feel scary sometimes to open up space for that pain, so you might even try setting aside a limited amount of time to try it. Light a candle, grab a box of tissue, snuggle a pet. Find stillness in your body and spirit. Take slower, deeper breaths and feel your chest rise and fall. Allow yourself to honor and name the things and people you’ve lost this year. It is good to remember. One of the gifts of our faith is that we can take our grief to God, knowing that God is big enough to handle it all, trusting that God will help us find a way through the pain and frustration and anger and resentment. We are not alone in our grief. God is with us.
Of course, even in the midst of all we have lost, we have reasons to be thankful.
Gratitude is an important part of our spiritual lives. From the Psalms to Paul’s letters, the Bible is full of expressions of gratitude for God’s gifts. We used to sing a hymn in the Baptist church: “count your many blessings, name them one by one…” You might find it helpful to make a list of the things for which you are grateful, the blessings big and small that you have encountered in this roller coaster ride of a year.
Grief and gratitude do not have to be strangers. In fact, they are companions in many ways. When someone we love dies, we grieve deeply because we have loved deeply. As you walk through these shorter, darker days of 2020, I pray that you will find gifts in naming your grief and your gratitude, and that you will sense God’s steadfast love enfolding you through it all.
Pastor Mary Sue Brookshire