One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was leaving church with a friend, chatting while our small boys dawdled, their fists full of gathered sticks and their minds full of adventures. It had been one of those quiet Sundays when the congregation was small and our own children loud. The two little ones journeyed back and forth between our pews and we parents took turns reading stories, asking questions, and sharing out snacks. Wonderfully, everyone was understanding and the merciful minister joyfully sympathetic and unfazed. Glancing back at the building, my friend said that she felt it was such a privilege to worship there.
What a lovely thought. To look at our worshipping community not as the product of a choice we’ve made, but as a gift we’ve received. What my kids might call a “get-to.”
Their days are full of “have-tos.” They have to do their homework. They have to tidy their rooms, to wash their hands, to remember their things for school, and to help with the dishes. Then on top of everything else, they have to go to sleep when their demanding parents say so. But they have plenty of “get-tos” as well. They get to pick and borrow vast mountains of library books, to play at the park on the way home from school and to choose and make dessert with a little help from a supervising parent.
“Get-tos” bring joy. These are moments we can fall into and relish. Even if they are productive, they are not goal-focused but joy-filled. To recognize our get-tos is to celebrate and to be thankful.
This is a month for recognizing our get-tos. Our harvest celebrations are rooted in the turn of the seasons, but they also offer us an opportunity to reflect on growth and bounty in our own particular situations. Thanksgiving is a chance to sit, see and be thankful.
Which might sound peaceful or restful, but of course it isn’t. Thankfulness creeps. It stretches. It wants to fill our hands and it grows to contain our whole lives. Then as whole-hearted thanks-givers, we live aware of God’s living love. Then even our have-tos become get-tos.
I get to wake up in the morning with things to do. I get to feed my kids. I get to work. I get to rest. I get to eat. I get to exercise. All of these simple activities become stories of God’s love at work in the world.
Throughout this month, the lectionary readings highlight Luke’s stories of Jesus’ ministry. We will be reading his parables—and thinking perhaps about those who heard them the first time around—as well as telling stories about the meals he shared and people who sat to eat with him. These stories pile up with healings and forgiveness, and the promise of a kingdom that grows among us and ripens within us so that we, too, might bear fruit.
It is a privilege to get to hear these stories. They are all stories of God’s own faithfulness—on large and small scales—and they call us to pay attention. When we begin to see God in our own lives and when that thankfulness begins to creep in, we get hungry for bigger stories. The scriptures are there to remind us just how big those stories get. Biblical history covers a wide span of time, throughout which people in every generation learned to listen and to trust, to serve God and to be stretched by gratitude. We may not get to be the headline in this vast story—we don’t have to be. Instead, we get to be the people of God in our own time and place and for that, we can be profoundly thankful.