Hope, Gratitude, and Building Up Light in the World

August 31, 2018
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

United Thank Offering Episcopal ChurchI’ve always liked getting ready for school to begin. I really like school supplies. I like the first page of a notebook, a new pen, a new color of ink, and the new outfit carefully chosen to start the new school year on the right foot. The first day of school came each year with hope – hope that things would go well, that the bullies would have found Jesus (or something similar to fix their behavior), and that I wouldn’t struggle with my schoolwork. As a mom, I now love the first day of school for different reasons. I will never forget the first day of preschool 2s when one of my twin daughters refused to take a first day of school photo because she was so excited to go to school and didn’t want to wait any longer. I love seeing the same hope inside of them that starting a new year brings, the excitement of choosing an outfit, a backpack, and items to pack in their lunches for pre-kindergarten. With all of that said, there were tough days for me in school, and I know that my girls will face their own challenges. We all know that going to school is not an easy or safe experience, although it should be, and yet each year we shine ourselves up and begin again, with hope in our hearts. Starting with hope is really important.

You might be thinking, Heather, enough about hope, we’re supposed to be talking about gratitude! Well, for me at least, hope is the seed of change, and as hope grows and materializes, I think hope is fed by gratitude. Hope plants in our hearts the idea or the belief that good things are coming our way. Hope helps us imagine the best that we can be and the best that the world can be and strengthens us to go out into a broken and hurting world to work to make it whole again, or at least better for someone else. Hope is really important. Desmond Tutu writes: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Gratitude is the response to finding that light and helping it grow, or seeing someone else add to it. Gratitude helps the light expand, gratitude builds us up and encourages others to do good. Gratitude reinforces good behavior, it makes us feel appreciated, noticed, and known. Gratitude tells us that we are loved simply for who we are and for what we are trying to do in the world that is good.

I clean the house each week, some weeks better than others, but I really would like to live in a clean house at all times, so I clean each week with hope. A few weeks ago, during our bedtime routine of naming the thing that happened in the day that we are grateful for, one of the girls said that she was grateful I cleaned the house that day. She looked at me and then simply said, “Thank you, mommy.” This simple act of gratitude has sustained me for weeks. My child, just under 4 years of age, noticed me trying to do something good and nice for our family. She brought light into the world for me with her words. We all do things all the time simply because they need to be done (I’m looking at you dishes and trash…), but when someone thanks us, it is as if we are being seen and loved for the simple ways we show up in the world. What I noticed was that her gratitude built up my hope in other areas of my life. Gratitude is a great encouragement to continue to go about doing good things, even if they go unnoticed. Gratitude supports hope as it grows and intertwines in our daily journey and strengthens us to find ways to do more good in spite of the brokenness of the world around us.

So as a new school year begins, may those of you headed back to school as students, teachers, administrators, support staff, and parents plant seeds of hope about what this new year might bring. Help those seeds of hope bring light into times that might seem scary or dark. Feed the hope in others by noticing how they are bringing light into the world and by giving thanks for the blessings they offer to you and to the world. And for those of you not tied deeply into a school year starting, may you too find ways to give thanks for all that is beginning again in the world around you. May you face this new month with hope, seek out ways to increase the light, and give thanks for when you see others doing the same.