Ok. Here is the deal. Three weeks ago my car was stolen. From the presbytery parking lot. During work hours. Geez! (Not quite what I said, actually).
It has rattled my world. Not because my car was stolen, but because this particular car was stolen. I have always bought cars based on what I could afford and never purchased a new car. This was the first time I bought a car because it had everything I wanted—enough horsepower to pull a 16’ camper, drove like a car, room for two grandchildren and all their goodies, and AWD for those trips over the mountains in the middle of winter to visit churches or stomp through the forest on snowshoes. And it was new! How fun.
After four decades of living with what I could afford I finally claimed my place in the world and said, “This is what I want!” And the Universe shot back, “Too bad! You don’t get what you want.” I will admit that this minor injustice stung.
But a surprising thing has been happening. I am becoming strangely grateful for this cruel interruption to my life. At the time of the violation I was in the midst of considering whether I would drop out of my DMin program with Portland Seminary. My life was flying along at a pace that was clearly unsustainable. I was showing signs of mental and emotional fatigue.
The lyrics to Dan Fogelberg’s song Better Change kept traveling across my mind. I found the words nagging me like a divine voice trying to get my attention:
I can see you in the distance
And you’re heading for a fall
Sinking deeper by the minute
You’re about to lose it all…
I was already starting to heed the voice when my “dream car” got stolen. It was like the last straw or the final nail in the coffin to get me to admit that I was racing along at a pace that could only lead to one eventual outcome—an emotional crash and burn.
Was the stolen car a bad event? I don’t know for sure. It certainly has been a disruptive event. It has been troubling and unsettling. But was it bad? I can’t say that it has been bad. In fact, in many ways it has been good. It may have been the one startling, shock-and-awe moment that I needed to wake up to how hard I had been pushing myself. I haven’t liked having my car stolen, but I can also say that I am becoming strangely grateful for this sudden needed rupture in my life. I did drop out of the DMin program and am slowing things down considerably.
I realize that this is not your typical Thanksgiving message about being grateful for all the blessings God has bestowed upon you this year. Gratitude for children and grandchildren and marriages and graduations and new jobs and a bumper year for grapes or hops or hemp or whatever you grow.
We often split the world into good things and bad things giving thanks for the good things and hoping that next year will have fewer of the bad things. We think of some things as good events and other things as bad events and pray that God knows the difference between the two when God hands out annual blessings.
But I wonder if it isn’t quite that simple. I wonder if the actual reality is that there are some things that we prefer more than others; there are things we like and dislike; there are things that bring us more satisfaction and less satisfaction. But to actually call those same things good and bad may be trampling on God’s territory. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” begins Ecclesiastes 3 before running through a list of apparent opposites and calling them all good in the seasons of God’s life. To prefer something is just plain human. To call it good or bad is to make a divine judgment.
I will apologize if you were hoping for a more traditional Happy Thanksgiving blog. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t wish you Happy Thanksgiving for all the “good” things in your life while at the same time resenting this moment when I am still a little pissed off that God gave me a blessing I didn’t ask for.
I really do mean it. I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. No matter what you have experienced this year—new life and births, deaths and losses, new possibilities and dying dreams, buying your first new car or losing your first new car, enjoying your first kiss or lingering over your last kiss—I wish for you a grateful heart.
Gratitude is a way of life. We can’t control what happens to us or doesn’t happen to us. But we can control how much gratitude we feel for it.
Happy Thanksgiving, my good people.
Life is good. All of it.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades