Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, primarily because the focus hasn’t changed much since its inception or been hijacked by rampant commercialism. Despite Black Friday sales and the endless football games, the reason remains the same: to acknowledge our blessings corporately. Whether we feel like it or not.
I think we can agree that even the most jaded amongst us will at least give lip service to the idea of thanks. Peer pressure will make most people go along with the crowd. Eat turkey, pass the sweet potatoes, give thanks: it’s just what you do on the third Thursday of every November.
Not for, but through
So, despite living like complete ingrates the rest of the year, we set aside one day to count our blessings. Perhaps we should flip the ratio: be thankful every day and then have one huge day to collectively get it all out and complain about all the sucky things that have happened to us the rest of the year. Of course, we would also have to manipulate daylight savings time because we can’t possibly gripe about a whole year’s worth of crap in only 24 hours! I doubt, though, that Thanksgiving will soon give way to National Day of Grumbling and Murmuring.
But what if you don’t feel thankful? If our hearts have been bereft of gratitude all year long, then suddenly mustering up genuine appreciation just because the calendar page has turned is going to be pretty darn hard. The mind frame we bring to the table depends on the choices we have made the 364 days leading up to it, choices that are made in the crucible of difficulty and disappointment.
There are days that seemed more cursed than blessed: when you lose six hours of work because the computer crashed, when both of your car engines blow up on the same day, when you get an ominous medical diagnosis. I am not advocating being thankful for those things. I am advocating being thankful through those things.
A true story
Both of our car engines died on the same day this year. I was driving my husband’s truck when it threw a rod and damaged the engine. Clank, clank, clank. I barely made it home. That was at 11 am on a Saturday and we figured it would lie dead in the driveway until Monday. At 1 pm we piled the family into the mini-van for a graduation party about an hour from home. Halfway there steam and awful noises began emitting from under the hood. We pulled over on a lonely stretch of highway and immediately wondered who had sinned and needed to be thrown from the vehicle. What are the astronomical odds that one family would have both cars die on the same day? Unbelievable! Clearly, somebody was hiding something and this was divine retribution. The van got towed to a shop where it stayed for a few days until we could get it towed back home to our mechanic. Both vehicles ended up with rebuilt engines and we ended up a few thousand dollars poorer. This was not a day when I was shouting thankful praises to the heavens.
However, there were some real things for which we were thankful. For one, I made it home in the clanking truck without incident which was pretty amazing since I was 20 miles away. When the van blew on the lonely stretch of highway two other families on the way to the same graduation party saw us and pulled over. They safely took our kids to the party while my husband and I waited for the tow truck. The family whose party we were going to let us borrow a car to get home. One of the families who picked up our kids was going on vacation for two weeks so they let us borrow their suburban while both engines were being rebuilt. Nobody was hurt while we sat on a very narrow shoulder waiting for help.
In the greater scheme of life, car problems are fairly minor issues and I share my story just because car repairs are something we can all relate to. I know there are serious issues we also deal with: health, death, job loss, broken relationships.
A habit acquired
The silver lining is not always apparent. I have shared in another post that two of my children are diabetic and depend on insulin pumps to stay alive. I am not thankful for this. It is a chronic, long-term disease for which there is no cure on the immediate horizon. But we choose every day to thank God for His provision through medical care and for normal lives. Those are choices that have to be made daily when blood sugars are high or low and corresponding symptons set in.
Thanksgiving Day should be a natural manifestation of a habit of inward gratitude that we intentionally cultivate. It should not be a day when we artificially pump ourselves up and scour our memory for some obscure thing that happened over the year that we can pin an “I am thankful for” to. Genuine gratitude is a hard discipline to cultivate. I have to confess that my thankfulness report card this last year is not full of gold stars. It is not something I am proud of: it’s something that I want to work on for next year. I am a much better whiner than I am a thanks giver. I need to practice the habit of thankfulness. Yes, it is a habit: “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”
But all this begs the question: to what end should I cultivate a habit of thankfulness? What is the point? For me, the point is hope. Every time I am thankful through a situation, good or bad, I acknowledge my hope in God. My hope is not in the circumstances or even the hope that the circumstances might change. I often pray they will and that would be absolutely fantastic! But maybe they won’t and that’s okay too. My hope is in God’s love and provision for my life, which may include some rough situations that are part of a greater purpose.
Everything does not always work out the way it should or the way we want. I am sure you have had your share of situations that range from mildly annoying to somber and life-changing. Sometimes we are placed in terrible circumstances and have very little choice over our situations. My point here is that we can’t control our situations, but we can control how we navigate them. Nobody can take away our choice on how we react to life. Every day we can decide to thank or not to thank. The question is whether or not we will.
Is there a time when you had to make an intentional choice to be thankful?