Editorial: Gratitude

Years ago, Jeannie and I were attending the rededication of the monastery church at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky.  We were there, in part, to represent Asbury Seminary.  So, I was feeling the need to say something “special” to Abbot Timothy when it came our turn to shake his hand in the greeting line.

It was a spectacular Spring day in central Kentucky—one of those days when God seems to say, “This will do, right?”  The beauty of the day was very utilitarian as well, because a lot of our activities were outside, and another kind of day could easily have put a kink in the works.  So, I decided to shake Father Timothy’s hand and say, “How grateful you must be that God has given you such a beautiful day to celebrate the rededication of the church.”

I noticed that greetings were short-and-sweet, so I figured that would be enough to say.  Father Timothy was shaking hands quickly and moving on to the next person.  I was feeling good; I had my “blessing” ready to lay on him.

So, when my turn came, I executed my plan saying, “Father Timothy, how grateful you must be for this beautiful day God has given you for this special occasion.”  I released my grip, ready to move on.

But Father Timothy didn’t release his grip of my hand.  Instead, he held on tight so that I could not give my place to the next person.  And as he held my hand, he looked at me eyeball-to-eyeball and said, “Oh, Steve, you must understand.  I did not ask God for a day like this.  I simply told him I would take whatever He gave me.”  And with that, he let go of my hand and sent me on my way.

But now, more than twenty years later, I can still feel his grip—and I can still see his piercing eyes staring into mine.  It is a moment in my life which has become “eternal.”  Father Timothy was right (and still is)—I must understand—we must understand—we do not dictate to God regarding what we will accept or reject—what we will be grateful for, or not.  Our prayer must be “God, I will take whatever you give me.”

It is the prayer of trust, that God is good and will not give His children stones if they need bread.  And it is a prayer of humility that keeps the Creator-creature distinction faithfully in place.  It is the prayer of an open-hearted saint—one who realizes you can still dedicate the church, even if it’s pouring down rain.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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