“For what moment today am I most grateful?” and “For what moment today am I least grateful?” Most nights lately I’ve been asking these two questions from the Linn’s marvelous little book, Sleeping with Bread. Practicing gratitude isn’t new to me. Practicing ungratitude is. I’ve been startled to discover that the second question is drawing me even more deeply into God’s love than the first.
The first time I asked myself that second question I cried. I didn’t even have to answer it; it was enough to be sitting quietly in my Father’s love hearing Him ask not just “What was the nicest thing that happened to you today?”—a very good and important question—but also “What hurt you today? What made you feel sad, or angry, or helpless?” He cares. He wants to be with me in whatever life holds, however lovely or painful, small or large. There is room in God’s love for all of me.
“You belong to Me. You live in my world. And I give myself to you.” The preacher spoke the words, a paraphrase of God’s final words in Ezekiel 34, over us at the end of yesterday’s service.
Earlier in the service we had sung “This is my Father’s world,” and I'd remembered the hours I’d spent ten or so years ago arranging pictures from my little village in Afghanistan to that song. I’d needed to remember, in the middle of my years there, that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” I’ve needed to remember again recently, as I’ve watched, from a distance, a hospital going up in flames, staff and patients victim to a series of impossible-to-understand bombs dropped by people who are supposed to be trying to help.
There is so much beauty in the world, and courage and life. And there is so much wrong.
In the world.
In my country.
In my own heart.
I pulled out my Freedom Journal last night, that place where I write things I need to bring to Jesus and leave with him. I’m using a journal a friend gave me in high school, one which has sat, empty, on my shelf for twenty-five years. I’ve never loved it. It was too dark, too stark; I wanted pretty. Now I can’t imagine another journal that could speak the strong, gentle truth more perfectly. It’s a somber black with threads of gold woven through it, defying the darkness. Its unlined pages haven't provided enough structure for my perfectionism, but they offer plenty of grace-filled space for the messiness of life. A flap folds over to cover the raw edges of the pages, and a gold cord, long enough to wrap around it three complete turns, closes it.
I opened it last night. I had a list to bring to Jesus.
And when I’d finished writing, I turned again to the front, to the words I wrote when I first used the journal: “I leave this process with you and will soon close the book, letting this process be enfolded in your embrace and wrapped around with the glorious love of the Trinity. Where could this process, this journey toward freedom that matters so much to me be any safer?” The words sometimes change: in the moments when I feel like I’m trying to choose not the best candidate but the least bad one, “where could this country that I love be any safer?” Where but enfolded in the embrace of the Trinity could this friendship, this project, this world, be any safer?
We belong to Him. We live in His world. And He, daily, offers Himself to us.
“For what moment today are you most grateful? Least grateful?” The two questions are blurring, becoming one. As I become honest in God’s presence about the things that hurt and find myself once again loved—I God’s, and He mine—that tender moment of lovedness becomes the moment in the day for which I am most grateful.
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