A Time to Give Thanks
Together again. A great theme for Thanksgiving 2022, as we gather to give thanks. It expresses how we have conquered an irrational fear of sickness and each other as we emerge from the pandemic panic that erupted in early 2020.
For me, that became clear in mid-October when I took a friend to a spiritual retreat. These ongoing events were held twice a year until lockdowns scuttled everything in sight. The recent one was the first since 2019.
After the men who would spend 72 hours together in spiritual reflection departed from the sanctuary, the rest of us prayed for them and celebrated Communion.
Fortunately, we used real bread and dipped it in grape juice. Gone were the pre-packaged, bland imitation sets that had been popular during the widespread paranoia that scuttled church attendance.
Before serving Communion, the spiritual director of the community talked about our need to pray for the men that weekend. They would be confronting opposition, dealing with various situations, and “getting real,” he said.
To illustrate the seriousness, he recalled another retreat where a man walked up to him at the altar during a quiet time after prayer.
“Are you the guy who said we’re supposed to lay it all down and give everything to God?” he asked.
“Yes,” the pastor replied.
As he reached into his pocket, the man said, “So what do I do with this bag of pot?”
The pastor shared how on another retreat, after one deep time of discussion, six Vietnam veterans gathered at one corner of the altar to lead a seventh vet to profess faith in Christ. At the other end, a grandfather was doing the same with his grandson.
On the third night of the retreat, the community came together for a special candlelight service for first-time participants. The fact that it’s a surprise to them adds to its special nature.
Before they came into the sanctuary, the spiritual director for that weekend’s event talked of the tough situations the men were dealing with. He told of some confronting obstacles that threatened to derail their personal lives, careers, or marriages.
“At one point, I asked how many of them had faced things that week that had them saying, ‘This thing is going sideways and I don’t know if I can make it,’” he recalled. “Three-fourths of the men in the room raised their hands.”
Attitude of Gratitude
On the final afternoon, the community gathered once more to listen to what participants had gained from their experience.
One pastor told of how he had been ready to quit the ministry, but because of the encouragement he received had decided to go on. Another man talked of an all-night spiritual wrestling match that helped him see he needed let God do His work in his life. A third, only 20, talked of planning to share his faith with more people.
As I listened, I smiled at the memories of other, similar services. Times often taken for granted in the past were now special after such gatherings were yanked out from under our feet.
If there’s one thing that I will give thanks for as we prepare for the national feast of Thanksgiving, it’s that we are able to come together again. And, without fear of how many are at dinner, what dreaded disease we might catch, or the upcoming flu season, even though the early forecast is for a tough one.
Sometimes, it’s the simplest things in life for which we can be most appreciative.