by Jennifer Christenson
MY FAMILY AND I just returned from our yearly vacation in northern Wisconsin. For one glorious week, my family of four settles in at a cabin resort with my parents and other relatives. We spend the week swimming, fishing, playing games, doing jigsaw puzzles, reading, coloring, and simply enjoying the time we have together.
One of my favorite pastimes on vacation is walking. I do this alone for exercise, with family members for fun and conversation, or with my husband while our two children get some quality time with their grandparents. Most days this year, when out on an exercise walk, I simply chose to listen to the sounds around me: the wind in the trees, birdsong, critters scampering in the brush. I also used that time to pray.
Praying during exercise
Praying during exercise is a spiritual practice I picked up many Lenten seasons ago. I devoted a portion of my workout time praying for loved ones, my congregation, the world, and whatever came to mind. I discovered I liked that practice and so have continued it. This year, as I walked the mostly deserted country road and walking trail, I found that my prayers were limited to just a few words. Two, in fact: Thank you.
Now, my prayers usually are a mix of thanks and a long laundry list of concerns: please keep my family safe, please bless my congregation, please heal the deep wounds and divisions in our nation, please, please, please. For those precious days, however, the concerns, while still important, took a back burner to the thanks. Thank you, God, for this time with family. Thank you, God, for this sense of peace. Thank you, God, for much-needed rest before I return to run the race of faith and ministry. Thank you.
Why this overwhelming need to simply say thank you? Perhaps it was the palpable difference between this year and last year. Last year we had quarantined ahead of time to ensure that we didn’t pass the coronavirus to one another. This year, the adults have all been vaccinated, and relief is in the air. Perhaps it was the beauty around me that inspired my gratitude: some days, the sky was a brilliant blue blazing through the treetops; other days, it was a dull gray, and yet somehow no less inspiring. Perhaps it was the slower pace that time away from regular life offers. Maybe it was the Spirit interceding.
Now that I am back home, I have noticed that the “please” parts of prayer have crept back in. As well they should. Asking God for help is an appropriate and necessary part of the life of faith. Still, I wonder if those days of pure gratitude weren’t a bit of a “foretaste of the feast to come.” When “thy kingdom come” is a reality, our hearts will, at last, be at peace, and the only words we will need to utter will be “Thank you, O Lord, just, thank you.”
The Rev. Jennifer Christenson is an ordained ELCA pastor, mom to two, and married to Corey, who serves the church as a bell choir director. Pastor Jen and family, including a dog and a cat, live in Green Bay, Wis. The photos are Jennifer’s from her trip.