Letting Gratitude Lead

by Johnny Sears on Wednesday, January 10, 2018


by Claire K. McKeever-Burgett, Academy Associate Director 

On the Tuesday night before Christmas, I left my house — with two hours of leeway for what normally would be a 45-minute drive — to go officiate the small wedding ceremony of mutual friends. I soon found myself stuck in traffic.

Next to violence against women, I can't think of much else I detest more than sitting in traffic. I plan my life around traffic, doing everything I can to avoid it. I know every back road and alternative route. However, this particular night, there was no alternative route that would get me there any faster. I was, quite literally, stuck. 

I arrived three hours later — an hour after the ceremony was scheduled to begin. According to news reports, the combination of rainy weather, Christmas week, and several terrible wrecks involving 18-wheelers, made this the worst night of Nashville traffic in years. 

As I sat on I-65, I kept trying to find the right words of apology to offer my friends when I finally arrived. Then, I remembered something I once read that encouraged the practice of gratitude in place of apology. Instead of leading with "I'm so sorry," what if I led with "Thank you so much for having me in your home, for waiting on me, for receiving me with such grace and care"? 

After all, it wasn't my fault that traffic was terrible, and ultimately, I was deeply grateful to arrive safely and to be welcomed into a warm home and able to preside at a ceremony in celebration of love and lifelong commitment. 

So, that's exactly what I did. I walked in an hour late, and I said, "Thank you."

We all took a deep breath, laughed a little at the absurdity and powerlessness of sitting in traffic, and then we began the wedding ceremony. I officiated the wedding, celebrated the love and marriage of two friends, and was home and in bed an hour later.

Being grateful for three hours of traffic is not something I expected the week before Christmas, or, anytime, if I’m honest. Yet, I am grateful for the ways it invited me to stop — literally and figuratively — and welcome the beautiful gifts of breath and reflection, prayer and gratitude.

In this New Year, I will return to that rainy, traffic-riddled night with thanks, and I will remember how, when I let gratitude instead of apology lead, I was transformed in the image of Christ.