As members of the same nation, we share a common consciousness and will likely agree that the events that occurred within our borders make 2017 an interesting—and quite frankly exhausting—year. The first year of Donald Trump’s presidency has been a peculiar one, characterized by bumps, hiccups, and glitches with which we—and the world for that matter—are not accustomed.
In addition to the confusing political drama that unfolds daily, there were several horrifying and unnerving mass shootings. The most egregious was the Las Vegas shooting in October, which sadly and ashamedly, already feels like a distant memory. There are also the dramas over healthcare, taxes, immigration reform, racial and ethnic inequality and climate control that we inherited from the previous administrations and generations. These conflicts swirl about us, real and yet strangely untouchable, creating an atmosphere that is thick with confusion and anxiety. In this climate, we also attempt to navigate our own personal problems: family drama, significant other drama, work drama, bills, illnesses and psychotic drivers who faithful emerge on daily commutes to top off an already complicated day.
All of this makes me feel exhausted, and when I look into the eyes of the people I see regularly and hear the tone that casts grey shadows on my far-away friends’ texts and phone calls, I know that they are exhausted too. We are tired of tears and bloodshed and politics and all the other things that plague our minds when we stare into space, forgetting the tasks at hand.
We are on edge, expecting the worst because past events have conditioned us to anticipate evil rather than good. We prepare ourselves for the appalling unknown because it easier to stomach evil events when we know they are guaranteed to emerge in a matter of time.
I feel this evil cast grey shadows over my life. I stare at these shadows. I do not rebuke them (though I probably should), but I do wonder how they arrived here, with whom or what they came, and how long they will stay. Many of the shadows are not my design; they crept in from the outside world, interrupting my thoughts and distorting my understanding of God and how life is supposed to work.
I talk to God about the shadows. How I hate them. How they make it hard for me to believe that He is faithful, honest, and all the other adjectives that describe His benevolence. In response, He tells me to be thankful. But I know that to combat these shadows, I cannot give thanks silently in my mind. Rather, my gratitude must be coupled with action. So, I made a small poster, which I taped in the middle of the giant map of America that hangs by my bed. In the middle of that poster, I wrote “thankful” in large cursive. Around that word, I wrote all of the big and small things for which I am grateful.
I am glad for taste buds and good food, without which life would be far less exciting. I am thankful for my Christian parents because I would be a very different person (and not in a good way) without them. I appreciate birds and snow, which make me smile and remind me that God hears my prayers. And I am thankful for America, which despite its obvious issues, is a good place to live. There is no agency in birth, and I could have been born in a place without the amenities and rights I consider basic, but I was not.
My expressions of gratitude chase away the shadows that creep in from the chaos that occurs all around and help me view my life through a new lens that highlights the golden moments of the past 12 months. Since December 2016, I have had more travel adventures compared with any other time in my life, and they have been quite fun. With a smile, I realized this morning that a few more adventures with friends await. I have established new friendships and strengthened existing ones. I drove a tractor. I began a new job that challenges me and never fails to keep my mind entertained. As an added bonus, my supervisor is hilarious, and there is rarely a dull moment at work. I will not lie and say the year was perfect because it was not. It had its own share of frustrations and disappointments. It had numerous moments of tears.
For a while, I focused on some of those disappointments—the toxic political drama and depressing racial and ethnic division that plague our country, and other, personal events that I will not mention here. As a result, I adopted a grim perspective of life for a time. I’m glad the Lord encouraged me to look up, take my gaze off the shadows, which are, in many ways, far beyond my control, and recognize the multitude of blessings I have encountered since late 2016.
Whether the future holds clouds of grey, fierce storms, or clear, blue skies—I will look up. Because no matter the season, there are still blessings in abundance that I will only recognize if I give thanks.
Giving thanks to God, indeed, helps us to realize the abundant life He has promised us (John 10:10). Perhaps we are instructed to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Also, we are commanded to live wisely by redeeming our time: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17, NIV).
Paul went on to instruct the Ephesians, as well as us, to be filled with the Spirit, not with wine (Ephesians 5:18), as that cements to understand what the Lord’s will is. There is something very unique and quite transforming experience of the Christian life that many Christians seem neglect of—that is to be filled with the Spirit. I pray that you are continually be filled with the Spirit.