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Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett from First Presbyterian Church in Hastings gives the sermon Jan. 6, 2018, at the Hastings Community Awakening Revival Wednesday.

Each day on Sesame Street, they would close the show by saying, “This show was brought to you by the letter …”

I’ve determined that 2020 was brought to us by the letter P: Pandemic, Protests, Politics.

We need to heal the wounds left behind from last year. I propose we make 2021 the year of the letter G: Grief, Gratitude, Generosity.

Allow me to explain:

Grief: We have lost a lot in the last year, and we need to name and begin to process the grief that accompanies that loss.

All of us have been touched by the pandemic; as of my writing, the death toll in the United States has topped 335,000. That means one out of every 1,000 people in our country have died unexpectedly in the last nine months.

In our little corner of rural Nebraska, we have lost 46 dear people in our four-county area health department, including two beloved members of my church. These are more than numbers, they are our grandparents, parents, relatives, and friends, all precious children of God.

Not only is the loss of life tragic, but our grief processes have been disrupted this year.

Here in the Midwest, it’s our tradition to hold a funeral luncheon following the service. That is where much of the grieving begins; people sit, share stories and memories, and begin to process their grief.

Both the funeral services and the luncheons afterward have been cancelled or fundamentally altered in the midst of this pandemic.

We need to attend to this reality and be tender to ourselves and others in the year to come as we begin to process our interrupted grief.

Beyond the death toll, we are also grieving the loss of so much in 2020: lost jobs, broken relationships, missed celebrations, disrupted classroom teaching and learning, cancelled face-to-face visits with family and friends, this list goes on and on.

My recommendation is that we be particularly attentive to the grief that accompanies all we lost in 2020. Talk to others about it, including your friends and family, as well as pastors and mental health professionals.

Perhaps 2021 can be the year that we destigmatize counseling as we acknowledge and begin to process the weight of the grief we have experienced. Ultimately, I believe it is important for us to face and begin to grapple with our grief in the year to come in order to work toward healing.

Gratitude: While we lost a lot in 2020, there is also much to be thankful for. In more than a decade of ministry, I have discovered that gratitude is a powerful antidote to so much of what ails us, including the anger that is produced by the polarization in our politics.

If you can look at someone you disagree with and instead of focusing on your disagreement, reflect on what you are grateful for about that person, it fundamentally alters the nature of your interaction with that person.

Leading with gratitude in the face of antagonism invites peace into our hearts. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote in Colossians, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other … Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom and with gratitude …”

In addition to using gratitude as an antidote to polarization, starting each day by focusing on gratitude sets our hearts and minds in the right spirit, and can have positive repercussions throughout the rest of our day.

Practicing gratitude can increase the dopamine levels in our brains, which is the hormone that makes us feel good.

And it is a self-replicating process; once our bodies produce dopamine, it encourages our brains to seek more of the same.

So, scientifically speaking, the more we are grateful for, the more we will find things to be grateful for. Challenge yourself to pause a few times a day to reflect on what you are grateful for; let’s bask in this cycle of gratitude during 2021.

Generosity: Another antidote to negativity in the world and in our lives is generosity. Similar to gratitude, if we choose be generous with our time, talent, and treasure, we reorient ourselves in the world and will experience the joys of giving and receiving generosity.

If 2020 was a difficult year for you financially, find ways to be generous with your time; make time to reach out to friends and family who are hurting or lonely.

Find ways to be generous with your talents; seek out an organization that could use your help whether that is: building or repairing homes, working in a soup kitchen, taking shelter dogs for a walk, tutoring kids who may have fallen behind due to school closures, volunteering at your local hospital to provide some support to our overburdened healthcare workers, you get the idea. Be creative as you are generous with your time and talents.

If you weren’t negatively impacted financially in 2020, make a commitment to be generous with your giving in 2021.

Find an organization that can use your help, every little bit counts. Here in central Nebraska, our local United Way stepped up and took a pivotal role providing relief and support during the pandemic, as did many local churches.

Look around your community to see which organizations are doing good in your community, around the nation, or around the world, and commit to give generously to those organizations in 2021.

The amazing thing about generosity is that we can find ourselves uplifted in the act of giving. While that shouldn’t be our primary motivation for being generous, it is certainly an added benefit.

I have also discovered that giving of my time and talent is not a zero sum game. By making time to share with family and friend and by volunteering, rather than depleting myself, I find that I actually gain energy.

So being generous with our time and talent can provide a boost rather than a reduction of vitality.

As we transition from 2020, brought to us by the letter “P,” my sincere hope is that 2021 can be marked by the letter “G.”

May these focus words of grief, gratitude and generosity guide us in the year to come and become a healing balm for our souls.

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