9/11 and the Gift of Gratitude

It took 20 years after the 9/11 attacks to realize how much of this tragedy I had simply blocked from my mind. The overwhelming barbarity and evil of these terrorist attacks was more than I could pay attention to for many years. Even as I write today, they are still incomprehensible. 

Yet the first episode of the Turning Point documentary on Netflix broke through. The video imagery is visceral, gripping, and horrifying to watch. I don’t want to see it again and am not necessarily recommending it to you. But it jolted me to pay attention to those who have suffered so much for the past twenty years. And that was worth it.

Perhaps I am slightly more sensitive to their suffering because over the past year, on a daily basis, I’ve grappled with the reality of unexpected evil. I’ve felt disillusionment over and over and over again.

The predatory and deceptive life of Ravi Zacharias, who pretended to be a virtuous Christian leader, was the first domino to fall. But so many other dominos fell after that: the RZIM board and the senior leadership of RZIM let me down time and time again. And then another domino crashed down: I realized that other prominent apologists would loyally stick by their friends at RZIM — even as we learned that these leaders had told lies and withheld the truth, and manipulated and spiritually abused those who challenged them.

Through this disorienting experience, I’ve realized in a new way that sin is contagious. As Psalm 1 reads, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers…” When we walk in step with the wicked, we become like them. 

So I’ve had to ask myself: What does it look like to recover from encounters with evil? Even as we remember 9/11, how do we go forward? Or maybe you’re trying to move forward after some other traumatic experience…

One obvious thing to mention is that there are many others who have suffered far more than me. Sitting with some of them in their pain — with no obvious answers or advice — is transformative in its own way. And sometimes, through the depths they’ve journeyed with God, they have given me a powerful message of hope. I’ve cherished these moments.

And that’s what I want to share with you. One of the practices that has carried me through the past year is giving thanks. By no means is it the whole answer, but I am convinced it is part of what makes us whole.

It’s a simple matter, but at least three times a day I pause to thank God for the mercy of having food to eat. After I drop my children off at school, I am prompted to pray for them and to thank God for them. Again at bedtime, I pray with one or both of my children. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” I remember that we had more than enough, and there’s plenty for tomorrow too. 

But gratitude goes deeper than our circumstances.

Eugene Peterson expresses it this way:

We understand gift language well enough. We begin as gift. We don’t make ourselves. We don’t birth ourselves. We find our fundamental identity as a gift. And then, immediately, we are given gifts: gifts of love and food and clothing and shelter, gifts of healing and nurture and education and training. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7 NIV). “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God?” (The Message).

“We find our fundamental identity as a gift.” That’s worth meditating on. 

This past year I’ve thought a great deal about sunrises and sunsets. Just this morning the sunrise was too beautiful to take in. It was also incomprehensible. And it was free. A gift for being awake. So much extraordinary goodness and beauty. Sometimes I bite into a fresh, juicy peach and am overwhelmed. 

Just as lament helps us flush the hurt out of our hearts, I believe that gratitude is what opens our souls to be restored by beauty and goodness. 

Yes, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 is an appropriate time for lamenting together. And whatever personal, painful anniversaries you are facing, I understand that it is hard to remember and difficult to grieve.

And through it all, I’ve been sustained by gratitude. I’m thankful for truth coming to light. I’m grateful for my family, for my church, for new friends. I’m thankful for time to pause and watch wispy clouds drifting across a blue sky. 

We can even be grateful for gratitude. What a gift! It costs us nothing yet it opens the door for us to receive everything that is good and beautiful. 

And I’m thankful for God’s friendship. How is it possible that the sovereign Creator of all good things is lovingly involved in my life? Gift upon gift upon gift. 

What are you grateful for today?

Giving Credit:

Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash