• Guest Contributor

A Year of Gratitude

Many of my friends have decided that the year 2020 is a no good, awful, bad, terrible year. I’m not saying it’s been a walk in the park, or anything, and I certainly understand this mindset. It’s been hard. Lots of bad things have occurred, layering sorrow over stress, lethargy over intention, division, racism, and hatred over equity and understanding, anxiety over faith. And yet.

I have resisted just wishing it away and awaiting a better year. First, I’m not convinced that 2021will be easier; some signposts are pointing that direction, and others not. Second, easier isn’t necessarily better. And third, sorrow goes on beyond the turn of the calendar. I won’t belabor any of these, nor add more, though I am sure we could.

Many years ago I determined that I would live my life out of gratitude, not because things were rosy, but because it was the only way I could keep my heart and mind intact through sorrow. If you know me, you also know that I am not a Pollyanna, and am prone to both gravity and grief rather than hilarity and lightheartedness. I do love a good laugh, too, because brokenness is so familiar. And I have found that there is good to be mined from challenge, hardship, even horror. As many have said before—it’s not what happens to you but how you respond to it. We have choices to make about who we are in the face of struggle, even in 2020.

I have found that gratitude is not a holiday or a time of year. It is a spiritual effort, a discipline of the heart and mind that has little to do with circumstances. Gratitude is a way of life focused on what is rather than what is not, a determination to find meaning without argument, a perspective of hope.

I won’t make light of the circumstances. People are dying from Covid, in this country, at the rate of about one a minute. I am not grateful for that. Racism is alive and well and I will not give thanks for it. It’s been a hard semester and I am tired, tired with the rest of you. Gratitude for the fight against injustice, for those who wear masks and take care of others, for the good work we do together, fuels intentions and actions to make the world a better place, to keep taking part in whatever solution I can join.

G.K. Chesterton wrote “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” I would add that gratitude is wonder even in the face of unhappiness. It is a deep practice, a habit, an intentional way of living, a way of seeing the world, and a way of managing through hardship. Gratitude won’t let us give up. It holds us in the present, in hope, and in love.

I hope and pray it will find you, even in 2020. Happy thanksgiving, too.

Jan Fuller has been the University Chaplain at Elon since 2011. She is an Episcopal priest and deeply invested in helping students to find their own spiritual paths while interacting with others in differing paths with appreciation and respect. Raised in Beirut Lebanon for the first half of her life, Jan is the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries to the Arab peoples of the Middle East. Jan’s education includes a Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a B.A. in English and French from Hollins University. Jan describes herself as a “war-zone survivor,” who retains a sense of humor and love of gentleness. She loves Arab art and food, and all kinds of music. She intends to find the gift in every day and to live her life as a way of giving thanks.

Contact: jfuller3@elon.edu

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