Thankful for what we have
By Sue Washburn | Presbyterians Today
When I go to the gym and get on a treadmill, I sneak a look at the people around me. Who are they? How fast are they going? How steep an incline is their machine set at? Then I compare myself to one of them. Am I going faster? Is my incline steeper? Lately, it often seems that I’m much slower than my gym neighbors. They have better numbers showing on their machines.
When I compare myself to the person beside me, the voices in my head start. One applauds me for simply showing up. Another is like a drill sergeant running alongside me yelling that I’m too slow and can go faster. Another is a soothing yoga instructor who reminds me to focus. I sneak a peek at my neighbor’s machine, and I bump up my speed and my incline to try to keep up.
When I do this, it seems the person beside me fiddles with her machine. Huffing and puffing I sneak another look at my neighbor, who seems to be always going faster. Eventually another voice in my head shouts, “She’s 20 years younger than you! Stop it!”
At the gym, I compare myself to the people who are younger, faster and stronger. This comparison and competition can lead me to push myself in ways that can improve my pace. But it can also lead to feelings of failure.
So often this happens in our small churches as well. We sit in meetings or at conferences and look at our neighbors with better numbers. They are bigger or younger or seem to be going farther in ministry or mission than our own. We compare ourselves to megachurches or new worshiping communities and fear for our decline.
It’s human nature to look at those who have more rather than those who have less. Like Eve surveying the fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil, many of us look at the latest and greatest churches and say, yes, we should have that, too.
The Thanksgiving season is a great time to cultivate gratitude, but our comparative — or even competitive — nature can have the opposite effect, keeping us mired in fear and failure. If we only focus on how much we lack, we miss the opportunity to be grateful for what we have. Competition can trample gratitude.
My church theme for each November is often “The Great Thanksgiving,” and I use the prayer by that same name in the Communion liturgy as a starting place for practicing gratitude. Chances are you know part of the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving by heart. It goes like this:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
The liturgy helps us remember that we have much to be grateful for. It reminds us that church isn’t just about the number of people in the pews or the awesome programs or music offered. Church is about remembering what God has done in the past, being thankful for the gifts God offers in the present and praising God for being generous and faithful. So, as the body of Christ, let us not allow the fear of failure and decline to hold us back, but let us give thanks.
Sue Washburn is the pastor of Reunion Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.
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Categories: Presbyterians Today
Tags: Comparison, competition, gratitude, thanksgiving
Tags: better numbers, church, compare, failure, fear, give, give thanks, god, gratitude, great thanksgiving, gym, incline, look, lord, machine, people, sneak, sue washburn, thanks, thanksgiving
Ministries: Presbyterians Today