Being thankful, I think, is not a matter of recognizing what we have. It is instead a matter of our worldview, how we look at life and faith.
If being thankful is limited to possessions, then the old adage that “Enough is never enough” will quickly be proven true. When I base my spirit of gratitude only material belongings, status, power, authority, fame, etc., then I will inevitably encounter someone who has more. When that happens, I will no longer feel blessed but, instead, jealous and cheated. There is always someone younger, stronger, faster, richer, prettier, smarter, more famous or more popular. If my motivation in life is how much I can acquire or accumulate, then someone with more will always transform my feelings of gratitude into feelings of disappointment or envy.
If, however, I have a deeper worldview, then a thankful spirit is not based on who has what. It is based on my awareness that every morning when I awake, I have been given a gift of infinite worth. Life itself is the treasure. All else is merely accoutrement. An uncle of mine rightly observed: “Green grass, spruce trees, and spring flowers are just as beautiful when viewed through the window of a shanty as through the window of a palace.” Nature is a gift to all of us, not the private property of the privileged. The same is true with health. Would you rather be poor and healthy or wealthy and bedridden? Think of the gifts of music and art, friendship and family, food and drink. Think of the gift of faith which both comforts and inspires. If we identify what the real blessings in life are and how none are denied to us, then we will have thankful spirits that are not bound by external circumstances.
And, as I wrote at the beginning of this blog, there is also the matter of faith. If I know in my heart that God created me, God claims me, God loves me, and God walks with me day by day and step by step, how can I be less than thankful? Perhaps some of my steps are steep and some of my days are challenging, but I do not face them alone. Last week I was reading the biography of one of America’s foremost entertainers of the twentieth century. He had everything the world can offer – riches, fame, power, and countless romances (many of them experienced simultaneously). The story said that in his 80s, he became a Christian. It went on to observe that till then he had lived with a sense of desperation, but from that moment till his death he lived with a sense of peace. When we know Whose we are, Who loves us and walks with us, we find a peace that the world just cannot offer, and with that comes a fundamental emotion of thankfulness.
At Thanksgiving, I hope our basic gratitude is not dependent on how much we have, but rather on those essential things that the world can neither provide nor take away. Perhaps that was what Paul intended when he wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)