I love Thanksgiving (and not because it gives me an excuse to eat too much). It gets me centered and reminds me to stop my busyness to think more broadly about life and its blessings – to realize how dependent I am on God and others. Whenever I do this, my life has more balance. By acknowledging how very dependent I am on God and on the people in my life, I strengthen those connections.
Our Thanksgiving tradition, of course, was started in 1621 by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a boy I always felt a kinship with the Pilgrims, I think, because I was raised in Maine, which is not far away and has similar terrain and weather. The Pilgrims' dramatic story took hold of my boyhood imagination. It struck me that in the midst of loss and harsh deprivation, not knowing who would be next to get sick or die, these people took time to stop, to think, and to give thanks.
It has been in vogue in recent years to be critical of the shortcomings of the Pilgrims. Perhaps they were a little stern and narrow for our tastes today. We might feel ourselves superior to them for that reason. But are we? Do we have the spiritual maturity to thank God for what remains, if we were to face similar circumstances?
In many ways we have become the most successful and privileged nation in the world. We have so much! We are an advantaged people. And we have the precious gift of freedom. But we also may be the most ungrateful nation in the world. It is easy for us either to boast of something or to whine and complain where a healthier, more helpful response is to be grateful for what we have. The great 19th century essayist Edwin Percy Whipple said that “God is glorified, not by our groans, but by our thanksgivings…”
Here’s an idea this week: lead with thanksgiving, letting that be the first thought of every circumstance. Be grateful for the sunshine, grateful for the rain. Be grateful for joy, for pain and hardship. Grateful for loss and grateful for gain and advance. Grateful for faith and for doubt. For everything that faces you, let your initial thought be gratitude.
For we grow and mature only when we see the gift in everything and thank God for the blessing of the challenge. There is genius in being grateful.