I know it is probably something I say every year (and maybe you do as well), but it is hard to believe that the New Year is upon us. Even though this is the case, I find myself more ready and willing to take on the New Year and all that lies ahead than it seems in past years. Part of the reason why this is the case is due in part to the time I spent in quarantine in mid-December.

There were days when I would wake up on the couch where I was quarantining eager to take on the day but could only manage the strength to get a cup of coffee and then go back to the couch and not do much of anything (mainly sleep or at least try to sleep). There were days when I would wake, get that important cup of coffee and then was indeed able to spend a few productive hours before resuming a posture of rest on the couch.

However, it was during those hours and days on the couch when I lay there with no energy that I was able to do something…something I believe that is important and significant and that was spend time in prayer and reflection with God. To be clear, there was plenty of time when the only energy I could muster was that to close my eyes and sleep. But during those moments of being awake and having only the energy to lie still on the couch that I kept thinking about Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5 Verses 16-18: Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (NRSV)

Ending the year with a time of reflection on the previous year and a look towards the coming year is something I do each year, but this years’ time was markedly different. As I prayed throughout those days of “couch dwelling,” I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It is hard to explain but I felt a gratitude like I don’t recalling feeling in the past and I have to say that I like to think I am extremely grateful for God’s blessings in my life…but maybe not as grateful as I would like to believe.

As I have shared in worship with you a couple of times, my New Year has begun with a new daily practice of writing in a gratitude journal (thanks for the suggestion and example Karen). The book I am using is Sara Ban Breathnach’s book entitled: “The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude.” It is from this book’s opening pages where she talks about the power of gratitude that I want to share some of what she says. These are words I read during my time of quarantining as I brought the book home to read its opening pages in preparation for starting the New Year with my journaling about that for which I am grateful.

Gratitude is the most passionate transformative power in the cosmos. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection and reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life…Gratitude holds us together even as we’re falling apart. Ironically, gratitude’s most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil.

It is easy I believe to be grateful for the positive things going on in our lives; it is easy to give thanks to God and others for that which we see as blessings in our lives but to “give thanks in all circumstances,” as Paul requests of us is an entirely different thing…

That was one of the things that struck me the most during my time of prayer and reflection in mid-December. As I prayed and reflected on the blessings in my life (those good things I mentioned above), the Spirit of God helped me to see more fully how the times in my life that were more painful (the loss of a loved one, relationship difficulties, financial woes, job struggles, etc.) were times that that I can give thanks to God.

I say this because not only was God with me during those painful and challenging times but because of God’s Holy presence my life, I was sustained, I learned from the past, I grew spiritually, memories became more cherished, pathways became clearer and my relationship with God grew stronger. It is a reminder of Paul’s words in Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

The year past was a difficult, painful and challenging year for MANY and for some this New Year we have begun is not much different. My hope and prayer for all us is that in the midst of whatever this year brings, in both the good and bad, we might be able to give thanks in all circumstances and always be reminded that our loving God is with us.

For what are you thankful???

Blessings for a wonderful New Year!!!

Pastor Steve