Recently, I was watching a news program and something unexpected happened. Toward the end of the segment, the news anchor asked a guest what he had learned from the COVID-19 pandemic experience. The guest said a surprising thing. He said he had learned to be grateful for all that he had. He mentioned his family, work, and home. I thought this was such a moving and authentic moment.
His response reminded me again of how powerful a grateful heart can be, especially during difficult times. It took me back to a time in my life when the Holy Spirit taught me the power of a grateful heart.
Some years ago, I was at a low point in my life. My marriage had collapsed and I had suddenly become a single father with one son in junior high and a son in high school. I was unemployed and frankly, I was having a difficult time seeing how I was going to get through this to a happier, more fulfilling time. It was the month of December, and on this particular day, schools had been canceled because of an overnight snowstorm. I remember hearing the boys in the next room laughing as they played a game. About that moment, the phone rang and the person on the other end asked in a very friendly voice what I was doing with my day.
I was feeling very low and in no mood to be cheered up so I said in a very sarcastic way, “I am working on the Wheeler family Christmas letter, is there anything you might want to add?”
After I got off the phone, I thought about that idea. I had never written a holiday letter in my life, but for some reason, I thought I would give it a try. I sat down with my old laptop and began to write my first holiday family newsletter.
I have always been a positive person, so I thought that I would begin the letter with the positive things in my life and save difficulties for the second half of the letter. I began with thanksgiving for the joys of having my sons living with me full-time. I wrote about the kindness of family and friends who had shown so much love and support. Of course, after writing a page and a half of the things in my life for which I was grateful, I closed the laptop and was filled with new hope! It was as if the Holy Spirit was whispering to me that God was with me as I passed thought this time of trial.
I never sent that letter, but the act of writing it left a spiritual mark. I knew there were still difficult times ahead including bone-rattling adjustments and painful emotions. But for the first time I saw space for a future, and I knew that a Loving God would be with me through the challenges and the joys. That moment is still a monument for me, one I treasure and draw strength from even today.
Recently, I was cleaning out some computer files and I discovered a copy of that old Christmas newsletter in a Google docs folder. I read it with some interest, but there was nothing earthshaking in the writing or the content. To me this confirmed the work of the Holy Comforter helping me to refocus on the important things in life and bearing witness to the healing love of God. This experience reminds me of a passage of scripture from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
There is a gospel song that my Chancel Choir sings beautifully and the lyrics perfectly capture this feeling of grace in the time of a storm. It is called The Storm Is Passing Over, written in 1905 by Charles Albert Tindley.
Have courage my soul and let us journey on,
Though the night is dark and I am far from home;
Thanks be to God, the morning light appears
The storm is passing over
The storm is passing over
The storm is passing over, hallelujah
May the peace and love of God be yours today through the comfort of the Holy Spirit! God is with us through this storm.
Grace & Peace,
- Ray Wheeler, Ph.D.