Can you remember what God has done in your life?


   That question was asked of me and some friends when we went on a 3-day silent retreat years ago. One day, the leader said she wanted us to spend the afternoon doing nothing but pondering that question. I thought I'd have it covered in 3 minutes, and then I'd take a nap. But I stuck with it. One of my best afternoons ever. I remembered a kindness from a teacher, mercy from my first employer, a girl willing to go out with me, surviving a health scare, a coach who believed in me, an aunt who kept phoning me - and praying for me. Just having been alive and breathing. I remembered a photo of me with my sister before I could remember anything at all - and I smiled. Again.


   Your questioning self obviously will counter: how did you know that was God? I can't know or prove God was there. But I'm positive about one thing: I am a great debtor to so many. I am the lucky recipient of so much goodness and mercy. Society tells me I'm on my own, I've got to make it happen, I should be proud of my achievements. But just a little depth of thought reveals how very dependent I am, as we all are, for parents who cared for us when we didn't even ask, for all those "involuntary" actions (breathing, heartbeats) that keep us alive.


   If you feel independent, if you think you don't owe anybody anything, you'll never get God figured out. The whole Bible is a long story told by people who were mixed up about a great many things, but knew they didn't invent themselves, couldn't fix themselves, and desperately need some higher power and also the other people down here.


   To sort out your faith, you really have to begin with humility, and its twin sibling, gratitude. It's Thanksgiving. Don't focus on the nice house or the table piled high. Take a walk down memory lane. Remember what God has done, or at least all the good you've lucked into. Maybe you share with somebody. Maybe you thank somebody who's not expecting it, somebody you haven't talked to in years. Include that in your plans for this week!


   The psychiatrist Martin Seligman tells us that studies show people who express gratitude regularly, and especially in writing, are happier, their depression and anxiety ease just a bit. Make it a habit, not just at Thanksgiving.


   Finally there's Rowan Williams's idea that "faith is what happens to our understanding, and hope is what happens to our remembering." How are doubters and believers identical? If, when you remember, you fixate on regret, or guilt, or even Hey, I have been climbing the ladder of success! - then when you turn and look toward the future, you will have anxiety, fear, and you'll feel lonely. But if you can train yourself, over time, to look back with gratitude, then you will look forward with hope.


   And somewhere, in that pivoting from being grateful to being hopeful, God is there. Only then will we be ready to deal with tough questions and nagging guilt. You're not alone. There's hope.


James Howell



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