It seems that this is the time for profundity. Coming to the end of the year encourages reflection on life—our own lives as well as the lives of others. This is the time of year that we get lists (the top… or the best… or the worst…). This is also the time of year that we resolve to take up something (like a new hobby) or put down something (like the fork!). I’m not sure if what I’ll say is profound or not, and I won’t share any “top 10” lists or anything like that. Instead, I want to offer a word of encouragement and hope.

With the transitions, triumphs, trials, and thrills of 2013 now behind us, I offer an encouragement to be thankful—and express that thanks in a variety of ways: Pray to God, share parts of your life with others, give generously, and do whatever you can to express gratitude. It will not only make you feel better, it will go far in helping others to be thankful. And I am encouraging thankfulness no matter what has happened this year.

But to do that requires a different focus. Certainly we cannot be thankful for the terrible things that happened. I would never encourage such masochism. I am rather suggesting an attitude of gratitude—a shift in perspective. Stop looking at what you don’t have, but like the classic 70s song by William DeVaughn says: “be thankful for what you’ve got…”

I tend to be self-critical while simultaneously being very accommodating to others (“accommodating” was the word that someone else used to describe me). I feel that I have not given myself much grace, so consequently I am not always thankful for the blessings that God has given to me. So I encourage you as I encourage myself: be thankful for 2013 and look positively toward 2014.

I offer motivation with both a biblical word as well as a “secular” word. That latter word is from a psychotherapist, Dr. Mark Hansen, who seems to understand how powerful it can be to have the right attitude even in the face of what could be traumatic. He writes of lessons from a dying man.

The biblical word is rather straightforward:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

susandennis2013

With Susan in October 2013

So I end the year thanking God for being gracious to me. I also express thanks for my lovely wife, Susan Steele Edwards, a social worker, who also patiently works alongside me so we can both be the best that we can be.

I am grateful for my talented, bright, and generous children:

erica and jon 2013

Jon and Erica: A holiday picture! Such a great couple!

Jonathan, an artist, who uses his MSW degree to serve children in Atlanta while his wonderful wife, Erica, works on her PhD at Georgia State University.

JasonJoannaJessica 2013

Joanna, Jessica, and Jason in Houston around Christmas 2013

Jason, a musician, who teaches middle school children in the heart of Washington, DC while also serving as the Worship Director at the church I founded, Peace Fellowship Church.

Joanna, an interpreter for the deaf, lives in Brooklyn and serves deaf students in NYC.

Jessica, a teacher, serves economically-challenged middle school students in Houston, TX.

I am also grateful for my church community, The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN. God is doing some wonderful things among us, and I am looking forward to us growing deeply and broadly in the coming year. I am honored to serve as the senior pastor and thankful that despite all my imperfections—or perhaps it is more accurate to say with God working through my imperfections—I am allowed to develop along with every other member of this fellowship.

I end with the words of an ancient hymn that might offer hope to someone (please pardon the lack of inclusive language in this English translation):

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;

Thou my best thought, by day or by night,

Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

 

Be thou my Wisdom, and thou my true Word;

I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;

Thou my great Father, and I thy true son,

Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

 

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;

Thou mine inheritance, now and always;

Thou and thou only, first in my heart,

High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

 

High King of heaven, my victory won,

May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.