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At a meeting this past week, by Zoom of course, the participants -- about half of us pastors -- were asked to write down the 10 things in our lives that we cherish the most. We spent a few moments thinking and writing -- most of us were typing memos in our cell phones because we don't know where paper and pens are hidden -- and when we'd completed our lists, we were given the following instructions:

"The mayor of your town needs the assistance of all citizens in combating covid-19. She needs you to give up three of the things on your list." I'd been chatting with a friend on Zoom, and we were both struggling with this exercise. I didn't mind giving up my house, and she didn't mind giving up her bed, but most of the items we'd listed were people.

Then came the next request: "Arkansas' resources are stretched to the max, and the governor needs you to give up three more items from your list for the good of our state." At this point, I asked my colleague leading the exercise if the governor would ever return these people to me or if their lives were in danger. I got no answer.

And, of course, there was a third purging, as we were directed: "The pandemic needs everyone to do what they can to end the virus and to keep the country from economic ruin. The president of the United States asks that you give up three more items on your list." We each quietly crossed off another three items.

"What's left?" the leader asked us. No one said a word. Finally, I responded: "My faith." I don't know what anyone else had on their list, or if everyone had written down their faith, but I ended up thinking that this was a really good exercise to go through during this season of Thanksgiving, heading toward Christmas. I could have written down my health. I could have listed any number of possessions. I certainly didn't want to give up the people I love whose names I'd listed, but when it all came down to it, the thing that I couldn't give up was my faith. Because that's my hope.

My husband and I have talked through Thanksgiving, and we aren't going to spend time with either of our mothers because it just isn't safe. He doesn't want to think about Christmas -- probably because nothing will change to make it any safer for indoor gatherings. With covid-19 numbers rising across the state and nation, and winter weather keeping us inside, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be different this year.

Of course I will celebrate the holidays. I will give thanks this Thanksgiving that my priorities have shifted during this year. I cherish my family and friends more. I am more thankful for little things. Yes, I get down and pray for an end to the pain and suffering that too many are experiencing, and the uncertainty that all of us are going through. But thanks be to God I am loved and held closely by God through these difficult times. If this year of covid has taught us anything, it's that we can't depend on "stuff" to keep us either healthy or happy. For that we depend on God, and God's love, and the love of family and friends.

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Smith Belden is a minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), currently serving as the stated clerk of the Presbytery of Arkansas. Contact her at [email protected]

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