Start With Forgiveness

Have you ever wondered why we say the prayers of confession and proclaim forgiveness before celebrating our congregational prayer celebrations and concerns? Is that just the way United Methodists worship? Yes, that is true. You’ll probably find that pattern in most congregations. However, there are theological, Biblical, and spiritual reasons we speak this way.  These reasons could impact your Thanksgiving dinner.

Forgiveness precedes gratitude. It isn’t easy to be genuinely grateful if we need to forgive someone or something. In church, we begin our prayers of confession by addressing God, acknowledging our brokenness, and our need to be forgiven and forgive others. Forgiving others is a central component of what Christians call the “Lord’s Prayer.”  How can we honestly acknowledge gratitude for our lives, blessings, families, and friends if there are some we cannot forgive? Can we share a common table and proclaim our genuine thankfulness to God and others if there are those sitting around our table that we need to forgive? If our hearts are burdened with hatred, remorse, and vengeance, is any of our gratitude nothing more than empty words? Without forgiveness, some internal or external acknowledgment of the need to move beyond past wrongs and hurts, gratitude grows in shallow soil. Life is too short to waste on superficialities. Jesus calls us to forgive from a place deep within ourselves where our emotions are raw and fragile. It’s in that same place, where we’d prefer not to go, where we begin to understand the depth and gravity of the forgiveness embodied in his life, death, and resurrection.

While I write out of the Christian tradition, I see this as an idea rooted in our shared humanity; not solely unique to a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple.

Before you sit down tomorrow, who do you need to forgive? Is it yourself? Is it a sibling, parent, or friend? Thanksgiving should begin with three words, “I forgive you.” Say it in any manner you feel led. Free yourself, your soul, and the lives of those around you for genuine gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving.

–Richard Bryant

A Word of Encouragement from Richard

Thanksgiving is a time when the word “gratitude” becomes spoken perhaps more than at any other time of year. We are asked to be grateful. Some families have traditions where they go around the table, and each member shares something for which they are thankful. Clergy persons like me encourage our flock to make gratitude a priority, not just on the fourth Thursday in November but all year round. Then someone flips the switch, and suddenly it’s Black Friday.

I remember studying Armenian in Yerevan, Armenia, during the summer of 1998. The noun for gratitude(երախտագիտություն) is one of the longest words in the Armenian language. Sure, there are 16 letters plus words here or there, but this was one we needed to know.

As language students, thousands of miles away from home, we were dependent on the hospitality of others for most of our basic needs. The ability to communicate our gratitude in word and deed was crucial to our experience. We needed to know how to say we were thankful and be understood. It was also important to show thanks in a manner that matched the length and psychological impact of such an important word. As we learned how to say “thank you,” we learned how to be “grateful” in another culture. Getting “thank you” right became as important as spelling and pronouncing “yerakhtagitut’ yun”.

Is there anything we need to learn or relearn about gratitude before we meet up with our family and friends next week?

–Richard Lowell Bryant

Important Ideas to Remember

1. Listen to the people around you. Honor their journeys. Your life will be better for it.
2. Pass on the kindness you’ve received.
3. Let your Thank You really mean, “I am grateful”.
4. Take fewer selfies. Take more pictures of leaves, trees, and clouds.
5. Stay hydrated.

–Richard Bryant