response: November/December 2019 issue

Responsively Yours: Gratitude and Giving

Responsively Yours: Gratitude and Giving
Harriett Jane Olson, l., United Methodist Women chief executive officer, greets former UMW National President Kyung Za Kim at Assembly 2018.

Gratitude is in vogue at the moment. Writers across the spiritual spectrum write about it in books, blogs and memes. They point out the importance of receiving life and calling as a gift. Gratitude changes us. It changes how we approach our serving, advocating, sisterhood and giving.

I’ve been wondering if our busy lives, full of many important commitments, interfere with our inclination to operate from a basis of gratitude. This makes me think of Martha, in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Poor Martha! She did the work of preparing and serving, only to be told “Mary had chosen the better part.”

Preceding the story of Mary and Martha in Luke is the story of the Good Samaritan, in which the behavior of religious leaders is criticized because they do not allow themselves to be “distracted” by the beaten man in need of help. In this story, we do not conclude that the religious leaders’ work or their observance of purity codes is bad, just as we do not begrudge Martha her focus on her tasks; we do understand, however, that they miss the point.

Martha welcomes Jesus and visitors into her home but lets her focus on the responsibilities of hospitality get in the way of her ability to make herself available for Jesus’ teaching. Martha, the priest and the Levite needed to open up their practices of faith beyond the duties specific to their appointed role.

Don’t get me wrong—the work of preparing is needed. Jesus sent the disciples to do it, we remember, before the meal in the upper room (Luke 22:8 and following). But we must not let our preparing cause us to miss when Jesus is among us—in one of the means of grace or in the person of someone in need. While busy, we must take time to breathe, to recognize life and the message of Jesus as a gift.

So what does this say to us? United Methodist Women members are often called on to be “doers,” and we can be “distracted by many things” as Martha was (Luke 10:41). But we are also called to breathe, to reflect and to remember that all that we have, including our call to mission, is a gift from God. It is a good gift, a gift that blesses us, individually and as an organization, and creates the capacity to bless others.

Perhaps this season, as we approach the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and as we think about the real invitation of United Methodist Women’s World Thank Offering, we can bring the lens of gratitude to our preparing. We can breathe in blessing and breathe out distraction. Let us rest in the amazing love of Jesus and move forward together to respond to God’s call to mission with women, children and youth around the world.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 11/3/2019 12:00:00 AM