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Gratitude in a Time of Lament

November 24, 2021

One month after Canadian Thanksgiving and in the lead-up to the U.S. holiday, join with us in reflecting on the CRCNA’s ministry and the ongoing challenges of this year.

Colin Watson, Sr., executive director of the CRCNA

First, we are thankful for God's love, which continues to be poured out on all of us day by day. And as I remember God's love, I think about the fact that God not only loves us with his words, but also has shown his love for us by tangible action – sending Christ to earth to live, die, and be resurrected for us. Thanksgiving Day is thus an apt precursor to the beginning of the Advent season, when we celebrate God's love in action through Christ. We are thankful for life, love, and opportunity. God gives us the opportunity to do work that he has prepared for us – work to love and care for each other and for his creation. And as we do this work in obedience, God lavishes us with many examples of his goodness – people who love us, our families, new relationships, and new generations.

But in the midst of this, there are myriad reminders of just how broken our world is. COVID-19 continues to ravage our communities, and although we have vaccines and treatments, we continue to torment each other and heap abuse on each other simply because we disagree on the proper ways to address our ongoing pandemic. In the midst of our thanksgiving, we continue to see social and racial injustices overrun our communities, fracture relationships, and create walls within families. As a people, when we consider the squandered potential and the lack of focus on human flourishing, there is only one appropriate response – lament. We lament our inability to consider others as imagebearers of God. We lament our inability to love each other as God loves us. We lament our inability to value others above ourselves, and we lament that we often think of ourselves more highly than we ought. We lament our inability to believe that all races created by God are equal in his sight. We lament our inability to stop seeking power at the expense of others.

We lament our inability to focus on human flourishing rather than on personal power and personal prestige. We lament our inability to turn from seeking such power, regardless of the implicit or explicit price that others have to pay for us to achieve it.

Sarah Stanford, ministry assistant for Jabez Ministries, a campus ministry at Grand Rapids Community College, and massage therapist

I’ve been associated with this ministry since its beginning in 2012, and I wish to share some things with you concerning its work. Jabez Ministries is important to me — and I give thanks for it as Thanksgiving approaches — for several reasons.

One thing I appreciate is how supportive Jabez Ministries has been in the past 10 years since I’ve been a part of them. Rev. Peter Gordon, leader of the ministry, has been supportive in so many ways, especially in how he stood behind me as I worked on getting the job I have now as a massage therapist. Had it not been for his helping me ask for everyone to pray for me about gaining this position, I have no idea if it would’ve come about or not.

Rev. Gordon has also supported me with where I have gone in my life as a Christian, including through the five years that it took me to graduate from college. There were times when I kept him awake until four o’clock in the morning — and how he managed to keep the conversation with me that late at night is difficult for me to even comprehend. Had it not been for his guidance, support, and, most importantly, prayers, things today would be very different for me.

This ministry is so important not only for helping people like me to become leaders but also in helping others to become a part of this ministry in order to become leaders themselves. I have seen close friends become much stronger in their faith and much stronger in their leadership, and now most of them have jobs of their own.

All of these people that I’m speaking about have disabilities, and if it weren’t for this ministry and its support, I sometimes wonder how confident my friends would be when it came to trying to look for jobs, let alone trying to get one. I know I wasn’t all that confident when I started job hunting after getting my license as a massage therapist this year, but had it not been for talking with Rev. Gordon about it, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Jon Huizenga, pastor of Rise Up Church in Cedar Springs, Mich.

Every Sunday these days I feel that pointing people to joy in the Lord is a bigger privilege than ever because of the world in which we are living.

There is underlying stress and social complication in our everyday interactions right now. There is joy and unity under the lordship and love of Jesus that many are hungry for and all of us need to pursue. This is not a pursuit of uniformity but recognition that we are all one in Christ Jesus, and that is a beautiful message for today.

Denise Posie, former director of leadership diversity for the CRCNA and founder of DLP Ministries (Daily Living with Purpose)

I am grateful for opportunities to drive to Lake Michigan in all four seasons to behold God's glory. Its beauty refreshes my soul! On a broader scale, I am thankful for workers who are sacrificing their lives in helping to keep others safe during a pandemic, such as first responders, hospital personnel, and so many more. I am also grateful for our churches’ making adjustments to stay connected with their members and communities.

At the same time, I lament for places in the world where Christians are being prosecuted and even killed. I lament injustices in our legal, educational, and health-care systems regarding race and sexual orientation. I lament some people's lack of cooperation in helping to keep people safe during the pandemic. I pray that the church will reconcile its differences in areas where we are greatly divided by what is happening on a national level.

Chris Schoon, director of Faith Formation Ministries

The past two years have given us plenty of reasons for lament. The fatigue that many of us are carrying with us can make practicing gratitude during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas more challenging. We just don't have the energy for them this year.

Though we often try to separate gratitude and lament, I'd suggest that these things actually belong together, especially for those of us who recognize the "already, not yet" reality of God's kingdom.

There are numerous biblical passages that model how these two expressions fit with each other. For example, in Philippians 4:4-7, Paul seamlessly weaves together thanksgiving and bringing our requests to God as if they are done in the same breath. Romans 8 sets an example in this regard as well. It opens with the bold assurance that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and joyfully reminds us that we are “co-heirs with Christ.” And then the text transitions to spaces of groaning and perseverance in the face of trials before ending with the resilient confidence that we can never be separated from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.

In many ways, these passages reverberate with a cadence expressed throughout the Psalms. Those prayers often move freely between high praise and thanksgiving to deep questions about God's felt absence and human suffering, before arriving at a place of resolved trust in God's ongoing faithfulness.

We have an opportunity, an invitation even, to bring together the stories of our past couple of years with all the joys and sorrows woven together. And that posture of giving thanks alongside and in the midst of our laments seems to fit well with the start of the Advent season, which helps us to remember what God has already done, while at the same time longing and waiting for the day when Jesus will complete his work of making all things new.

Mark Stephenson, director, Disability Concerns; interim director, offices of Social Justice and Race Relations

As of Nov. 17, my state (Michigan) has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections per population of any other state in the U.S. In my county (Ottawa), 80 percent of hospitalizations for COVID-19 are of people who are unvaccinated. I was talking with a friend recently about people we know who have COVID-19. Just between the two of us, we came up with quite a list. I lament all the sickness and death that has been caused by this coronavirus. So many people throughout the world are sick, have long COVID, and have lost loved ones to this disease. I lament the toll that this pandemic has taken on health-care workers. I thank God for vaccines, for progress in medicines that can reduce the severity of the illness, for health care workers, and for God's constant love, presence, grace, and hope as the scourge of this pandemic remains so strong.

Jim and Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Resonate Global Mission missionaries in Costa Rica

As we draw toward the end of 2021, we take stock of the year. As for many of you, it has been a very difficult year for us, for many reasons. There is much to lament on multiple fronts. We have prepared a brief video which you can view here if interested. It depicts some of the challenges we have faced. We also hold on to hope, believing that the old Spanish saying is true: "No hay mal que dure mil años" (“No bad thing lasts a thousand years”). Actually, we hold on to the trust that God is good and that the Spirit makes all things new. So we look forward to being surprised by goodness in the new year — in our lives, in yours, and in our aching world.