Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

November 30, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914

Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart. In many ways, it is an overwhelming holiday for me because I quickly realize, if I take even just a moment to reflect, that I have so many things for which to be thankful. I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for my daughter. I am thankful for the son I have on the way. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for my extended family. I am thankful for what is always my favorite meal of the year on Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for Christ and Him crucified. I am thankful for blessings too numerous to count.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. From the first Thanksgiving celebration with the Puritans and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621 to the likes of presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who both wrote moving proclamations calling Americans to days of national Thanksgiving, to Franklin Roosevelt, who formalized Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November, Americans have always found plenty of reasons to be thankful.

But Thanksgiving, at its heart, is much more than a national holiday. It is a theological necessity. We are commanded by Scripture to “give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Indeed, it must be very difficult to celebrate Thanksgiving apart from faith. For, without faith, who does one give thanks to? Certainly, one can be thankful to others for what they have done. But the gifts of nature and beauty and joy and the cosmos come from no man. And without a theological framework, they come from nowhere. And so there is no one to whom an unbeliever can say “thank you” for these things. As it turns out, thanksgiving, at least for the things greater than humans can give, is an inescapably theological exercise.

One of the things I deeply desire for my family is that we would share together a sense of thankful wonderment. We, as a family, are blessed beyond measure. My wife and I have jobs that are fulfilling, even when they are challenging. We are part of a church that we love. We can provide for our family in ways that many cannot. And our life together is marked by a general peace and contentment. God has given us much. But, as Jesus says, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). We have a responsibility to recognize just how much we have been given, to steward it well, and to, above all, be thankful for it and be thankful to the One who gives it.

I have often mused that the difference between being blessed and being spoiled is thankfulness. A person is blessed when he has been given much and he knows it. So he thanks God for it. A person is spoiled when he has been given much and he fails to see it. So he grumbles for more. To borrow a distinction from G.K. Chesterton: there is a world difference between taking things for granted and receiving things with gratitude.[1] Spoiled people take things for granted. Blessed people receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

This is not to say that there are no reasons to lament. But there is a difference between lamenting and grumbling. Grumbling looks at God’s blessings and says, “That’s not enough.” Lament looks at the sinfulness and brokenness of our world and says, honestly and candidly, “There’s something wrong.” This is why the same Psalter that sings, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1), also cries, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22:1)? Christopher Wright explains it well when he writes, “Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill out our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes.”[2] So to those who are facing a tragedy, a trial, or a temptation this holiday season, know that your lament is just as holy as your thanksgiving. For both lament and thanksgiving turn to God in faith rather than turning in on oneself in greed, as does grumbling. Lament and thanksgiving can comingle.

As I slowly eat my way through what are now my Thanksgiving leftovers, my prayer is that I see more and more of the things for which I have to be thankful. I am thankful for much, but I also miss much. Dear God, may I see what I have missed. To borrow some more wisdom from G.K. Chesterton: “Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to [have] in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?”[3] Legs to go in my socks. There’s something for which I have not yet said “thank you.” I wonder what else I’m missing.

__________________

[1] See G.K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 24.

[2] Christopher J.H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 51.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1919), 98.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chris  |  November 30, 2015 at 5:42 am

    Excellent, this should be an on going reminder of having an attitude of gratitude! Thanks

    Reply
  • 2. Mona  |  November 30, 2015 at 11:37 am

    CONGRATULATION on the son you have on the way! I’ll bet he’ll be just as sweet as your daughter, HOPE!

    Reply

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