When I’m not writing pithy “Minister Messages” for the Peninsula Clarion, I stick to my day job as the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. As the only pastor on staff and as the full-time pastor, my brain must simultaneously hop between theologically sound sermons, meaningful worship, counseling people, hospital visits, Christian education … and super important things like a broken urinal or that strange smell emanating from one of the storage rooms. But last week, I had the joy of inviting my congregation to name what they are grateful for, considering the Thanksgiving holiday.
When I did the highly academic work of using Google, it defined gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
I sat with our kids and asked them what they were thankful for, before inviting the whole congregation to write their own gratitude on strips of paper. The kids said things like friends, pets, family, and one made sure to say JESUS, since we joke at CLC that when you don’t know the answer to a pastor’s question, just say Jesus.
My plan was to encourage the kids and the rest of the congregation to reflect on what they’re grateful for this season, but according to the definition of the word, I feel like I missed an opportunity to teach.
Being grateful isn’t just about being thankful, but the readiness — the eagerness — to show appreciation and to return kindness … to return kindness.
I often say to my congregation that the hard work of being a follower of Jesus isn’t showing up to worship on a Sunday, but it starts the minute you walk out the door. It’s how you interact with the grocery store employee or how you handle the confusion around the traffic circles in town. Being grateful is as much about reflecting on your own blessings and good fortunes as it is showing kindness in return.
I wonder if instead of reflecting on the inward part of gratitude this holiday season, of ways in which I am doing well, if instead I use the kindness part of gratitude. What if, instead of gathering around tables and talking about what has already happened TO us, we challenge ourselves to return kindness to the world around us. To make a conscious choice to be kind, whether to the stranger or a specific person we struggle with. To return kindness, not because we’re owed it, but as an act of gratitude for what goodness has happened in our lives. And if we need anything in the world right now, it’s kindness.
With gratitude AND kindness,
Pastor Meredith Harber pastors at Christ Lutheran Church, 128 N. Soldotna Ave., Soldotna. Worship is at 10 a.m. on Sundays in person and via Facebook.