Gratitude, Penitence, Longing, and Trust. The way of Abram.
You are blessed - even if you don’t particularly feel it. You are alive. You have access to resources that many in the world can only imagine. You probably have some friends. You most likely have at least some sense of humor and can find something to make you smile.
Many of us have a great deal more than these basics - we occupy the middle to higher reaches of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our fundamental needs for shelter and food and clothing are met, and we have climbed to the needs for more belonging, more love, more self-actualization, more sense of divine purpose, and presence. We are blessed.
Abram, that Old Testament paragon of faith, was blessed as well. Blessed in virtually every sense of the word. Not only was he incredibly wealthy, but he also had this ability to create more wealth wherever God took him. And he enjoyed a closeness with God. He walked and talked with the Divine.
So the first word for the day is a word that you have heard so many times before that it might seem worn and cliche - but it is the fundamental word that will sustain us - and that is gratitude. Counting your blessings. Letting your blessings truly to occupy your attention. Seeing them. Accepting them. Seeing God in them. Small and large. The food you eat. The clothes you wear. The friends who call. The church you worship in. The rain and the sun. Let yourself know yourself as blessed. And give thanks.
Now Abram, like us, also had his faults. He would have utterly failed in the #metoo generation. While it’s not fair to read modern standards backward into an utterly different world, it still bears pointing out that he failed to protect his wife when it meant his own skin was in danger.
When we read this story, we are horrified because we can’t imagine offering our spouses upon the altar of self-protection but the truth is, we betray our hearts in a thousand and one small ways, and we routinely in small and petty ways betray the well being of our loved ones on the altar of our egos and fears and resentments.
So, like Abram, we are blessed and we have our faults.
By the way, Abram recovered Sarah, without harm to her - but one can only imagine what their pillow talk was like for a long time after that.
And so the second word of the day is penitence. Our egos get in our way just as much as Abram’s did. Our animal need to save our own skin first prevents us from trusting God with our wellbeing and following Jesus’ example of love first, forgiveness and extending grace even to those who are not deserving. We are in the time of the church year set aside for penitence - not because we are bad people, but because we all have gone astray - and none of us has the right to cast a stone or a judgment at anyone else before observing our own tendencies to do exactly that for which we judge others.
We also, like Abram, are most likely missing something very near and dear at the core level. It might be that peace which passes all understanding. It might be grandchildren. It might be a mutually satisfying love with another human. It might be hope in the future. It might be a longing for the kingdom of heaven to reign on earth. For there to be no more shootings in schools and theaters and places of worship. No more war. No more nationalism and convictions of supremacy and superiority. Something almost always eats at our core with longing and sadness at not having.
For Abram, it was a child. God has promised him children, but he had no child and now it was virtually too late. He and Sarah were old. And so, he questioned God - you say that you will reward me, but where is my reward? I have no child - in spite of your promises.
And God doubles down. Takes him out to look at the stars - and says - this is how many descendants you will have.
And here, in verse 6 of Genesis chapter 15, Abram earns his right to be our father in faith - because he looks up into the night sky, and in spite of having no hard evidence whatsoever, he believes God. Trusts him. Goes on with his life, loving Sarah and making money, and trusting God.
So here’s our third word for the day: Let yourself know. Let God know. Your longings. And then grow in trust. That’s more than a word but bear with me: Know your soul longing and trust God with it.
We are such can-doer’s, such entrepreneurs, we love podcasts and books that teach positive thinking and excersing our considerable abilities to make and produce and create. And this is all good. We should re-frame our lives and histories as much as we can to be positive and strong and creative. But there are things in life for which we long, for which we rightly long, that we cannot create on our own, we cannot produce on our own, we cannot manufacture or cultivate on our own. And Abram’s example can lead you when you get to that point where you’ve done all you can, and you are still missing.
So first, Gratitude. Count your blessings.
Second, Repent. Know that you too have not done those things you ought to have done, and have done those things which you ought not to have done.
And third, Trust God with your soul core longing. Hold your longing close - and at the same time, let God, who is true and able and with you and for you and ahead of you, draw you ever deeper into your longing and your faith. Look to God for fulfillment, not to more effort, more doing, more accumulating, more status seeking, more people pleasing.
Gratitude, Penitence. Longing and Trust. These are the words for today.