We had an interesting study in church this morning, and we looked at several verses of Scripture, but in particular, we read Psalm 136 together. It got me thinking.
In the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving every November. In grade school, you might have learned about the pilgrims and the Indians, the harsh winter conditions, near famine.
You might have even learned about George Washington and the “national days of prayer, humiliation, and thanksgiving” or Abraham Lincoln and the Federalization of the holiday.
These days, the observance of Thanksgiving has different meaning and traditions for everyone. Many people get together with friends or family and have a big meal.
Others get excited about Football games. Some look forward to the official beginning of the holiday shopping season and the madness known as Black Friday.
But for most, this holiday centers around the notion that we should be Thankful. You will hear countless politicians, business leaders, preachers, celebrities, and even members of your family and community tell you “we should be thankful”, especially during this time of year.
So I ask.
Why? Why should we feel Thankful? And what exactly does that mean? To Feel Thankful?
And I’m not looking for specific examples. I’m not looking for the “I’m thankful because I’m healthy or have a job or my kids go to the best schools, etc.” answers. I’m asking, what is it about our nature that would prompt anyone to feel gratitude? Is this a natural inclination or are we taught how to ‘feel’ grateful / thankful?
Some may say that when someone extends a kindness to you that you didn’t deserve, when you feel like someone has gone above and beyond the minimum call to duty, it’s that ‘extra something’ that elicits gratitude. So in response to the knowledge that something other than the bare minimum was done for you, your natural response is one of gratitude.
But what if the object of your gratitude isn’t a person’s actions? You’ve heard people say “I’m grateful for Freedom.” Or “I’m thankful that I have my health.” Or “I’m grateful that I could buy dinner tonight (because I labored, earned a wage, paid my debts, and had enough left over).”
If you follow the “extra something” logic, then your gratitude for things or circumstances may stem from an idea that you have more than you “deserve”. So for example, if you are grateful for Freedom, maybe it’s because you believe you don’t deserve freedom, but it’s kind of like a bonus.
Of course, if you’re an atheist and purely pragmatic, maybe you don’t feel gratitude or thanksgiving at all. I’m not exactly sure how that works.
IF, however, you feel the need to show gratitude, to be thankful for ___, or to appreciate your lot in life, and you are planning on celebrating part of this Thanksgiving holiday in reflection, I pose one final question that I alluded to above.
TO WHOM do you direct your gratitude and how exactly do you express that?
Is Thankfulness basically a warm and fuzzy feeling you get or does it manifest itself into some action?
How do you show your thanks for the men and women that defend our country? Do you wear a pretty yellow bow? Place bumper stickers on your car? Vote for higher taxes to give our soldiers more __ (incidentally, you can always pay extra taxes to the Treasury if you are so inclined without having to steal from everyone else that doesn’t share your patriotism.)
How do you give thanks for your job, your car, your home?
How do you show gratitude for the welfare check you received this week (or do you believe you deserved that check, so there’s really nothing to be thankful for)?
How do you give thanks if you studied really hard for months and got an ‘A’ on your college mid-term? Do you treat yourself to beer, giving thanks to yourself?
How do you show gratitude for the Constitution? The Bill of Rights? Obamacare? Great books? Your favorite band?
How do you show gratitude for the privilege of being a parent? Do you go out for some “me time”, buy yourself a new car because you deserve it, or have your nails done?
I submit to you readers that Gratitude comes from our Creator. Just like our natural ability to feel and understand JOY, for example, God gave us a natural desire to feel Thankfulness because it is our natural reaction to His goodness. The Bible tells us that God is Good and that all good things come from Him. If there was no God, there would be no Good, and we would not have Thankfulness in our hearts. We did not deserve His goodness. We have no rightful claim to it. But He pours out His goodness on us because He loves us.
Our response to His goodness, our gratitude that we show, is evidenced in the Love we have for Him. Jesus said “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)
Our thankfulness should not be limited to the 2nd to last Thursday of November. It should be the core of defining who we are. But as you prepare for the festivities and celebration this Thanksgiving, be sure to recognize that the very act of Giving Thanks comes from God to whom all Thanks is due.