During my sabbatical last summer, I prepared to listen for God to speak. But, instead of the soft whisper I desired, I was given the harsh news that my husband had lost his job.
This was not a new experience for us. My husband has been unemployed three times in the past five years, and moreover, it is not an experience that is unique only to us. There are others in my congregation who lack employment, and joblessness isn't the only challenge faced by those in my church family or the larger community.
But still, I found myself asking the questions: What does it mean to be a Christian in the face of all of this stuff of life? What does practicing the Christian faith look like? Does it make a difference in how I live my life?
While on retreat, away from my family and friends, I was able to discern just how the community of faith is essential to the practice of my faith. I discovered that it is when I stand on the beach in the storms of my life that my community provides more than shelter. Instead, it becomes for me what I cannot be in the moment—at least until I can be it again.
The community prays in my stead until I can be present again. If I am sick, the community prays for my healing. When I despair, the community hopes for me until I can hope again. If I can't forgive, the community embodies forgiveness until there is a new space in me for it to dwell. If I can't believe, the community gives what I need, knowing that, in time, I will offer the same when it is needed in return.
My family has been living in a land of apparent scarcity, at least financially speaking. But we have discovered over and over the blessings of abundance, because abundance is just what we are experiencing from the people in our lives.
Sometimes, our blessings come in dollars and cents, but in recent weeks, my husband and I have been keenly aware that blessings come through the hands of those in our lives.
Too often, I am focused on what I should give up in order to follow Jesus. But now I realize it is equally important for me to focus on what Jesus is asking me to embrace. And that is a life of abundance, which I find most clearly evident in the community of believers who follow him.
It has been said that one cannot truly experience the feast until one has experienced a fast. We can't be filled without being emptied first. But, ironically, it took me being by myself to discover that I wasn't alone.
My sabbatical is over now, but not my husband's unemployment. We continue to have our hard days, but my community of faith surrounds me and offers what I am not able to be on my own.
Spiritual disciplines are not practices that can be mastered so that we can be better Christians, or have deeper, spiritual lives. Instead, they are about spending time with God. Wherever we find ourselves—in sunlight or in shadow—we are here together.
So, let us be blessings to each other. And let us thank God for that abundance.
Margaret G. Borrelli is a commissioned minister of education at West Park UCC in Cleveland. She is also director of the Gerry's House Resource Center of the Western Reserve Association.