Different Degrees of Thanksgiving–or Not

For the past two weeks when I sat down in my office to compose this weekly blog, I experienced the same agonizing phenomenon:

The power went out and I was plunged into darkness.

Last week, the Pacific Northwest was struck by an unusual November storm that thrust 200,000 people into hunker-down mode. We slept in a cold home that night, took care of our parents with generators and visits, and waited for the work crews to do their thing.

The wait lasted 28 hours.

Yesterday, some violent winds from the north again knocked out power to 20,000 homes–just as I sat down to write to you.  After only four hours in a cold bedroom, the lights burst on and our lips pursed a “thank you” for the blessing of electricity, heat, refrigeration, and hard working repairmen.

Some thoughts on the different degrees of giving thanks-or not.

Of course, Thursday is our USA Thanksgiving when hundreds of millions of Americans gather with friends and family and give thanks for their many blessings.

Gary Randall wrote a good piece this week on the origins of the American Thanksgiving Day. The first one took place in October of 1621 when the Pilgrims joined forces with the native tribes near Plymouth, Massachusetts to eat, play some games, and give thanks to God.

One hundred and fifty years later in 1777, during the early trials of the War for Independence, all thirteen colonies joined in a day of giving thanks. Twelve years later, following their “providential victory” in the war for freedom, George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Another eighty years went by, including forty years of advocacy by an American journalist, until Abraham Lincoln authored his famous Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863 during the dark days of the Civil War.

But it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress, during the early stages of World War II, established the fourth Thursday in November as the official American Thanksgiving Day. Every year since, each American president has signed a proclamation calling the citizens of our nation to give thanks.

You can read the details here.

With the power going out and Thanksgiving arriving tomorrow, I’ve been pondering the many aspects of how human beings give thanks–or fail to do so. I’m sure on November 26, 2015, there will be a variety of responses around the nation: 

  • Many will gather with family and friends and say a prayer around the dinner table (like they do on the TV show Blue Bloods during each episode–one of the only evening sit-coms that I sometimes watch).
  • Other will attend parades, watch football, and maybe even begin their holiday shopping.
  • A few will attend special church services and Masses to give thanks.
  • And some will do nothing at all except to lay around and enjoy a day off. 

The different responses reveal a different attitude about life, God, gratitude and what and who a thankful spirit should be directed toward.

Gratitude is an attitude–but there’s a negative form as well.

There are a few people that are so angry at God and life that their “thanks” takes the form of profanity. My father once had a patient who was dying of cancer.  During his last moments of consciousness, this man’s bulging face spewed obscenities at God whom he hated for his circumstances in life.

His last words contained gurgling hatred-not an ounce of thanksgiving for the life he’d been given.

Other people see the “glass of their lives” half empty much of the time. They bitch and moan about most everything and everyone around them. You all know people like this. The ones I’m most familiar with live in the Western world in “palaces” compared to the poor of the earth. They have shelter, heat, electricity, cars, TV sets, cell phones, and bank accounts–but are, for a variety of reasons, disgruntled at their lot in life and rarely say a word of praise or thanks.

If they took a moment and thought about the poorer two-thirds of the world–without running water, in horribly hot climates, without jobs, living in huts or shanties, and many without hope in God–they might repent of their attitude and realize just how grateful they should be–at least for the “stuff” they have that others don’t.

These “Eeyores” generally will not say a prayer when they feast on turkey and the trimmings, and will probably get mad when their favorite team loses the game on Thanksgiving Day.

Bitterness is a poison, and is not fun to be around.

So that’s a quick look the negative attitude side of the Thankgiving meter–those who are angry at God and those who are generally mad at their circumstances.

Then there is the positive side: the attitude of gratitude.

There will be many people in America tomorrow who will spend some time thinking about or thanking God or someone for the good things in their lives:  

  • They will be thankful for family and appreciate getting together around a good meal.
  • They are thankful they have a job in a continuing bad economic environment.
  • They will be grateful for the day off to rest, eat, watch TV, and hang out with people they love.
  • They are pleased with their overall health and the safety of their loved ones.
  • They might even be thankful to be an American–and appreciate the freedoms they enjoy.

This list could go on and on if we had time, thought, and length of page. There is really no end to the things in our lives that bless us, encourage us, and let us know that life is worth living. 

I believe when most Americans think about Thanksgiving this year, they will be thankful for at least something. In fact, when we think about Thanksgiving at this time of year, we usually focus on the stuff if we’re worldly or “blessings” if we’re religious. 

To many Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of rest to be thankful for things. But “things” are a lower level of the attitude of gratitude.

Let me give an example. 

The young groom-to be is excited to finally give his bride her cherished wedding ring. He arranges all the circumstances leading up to one of the greatest moments in their lives.

She doesn’t know what’s coming. But at the pre-planned moment, he drops to one knee on the carefully chosen beach, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a package that looks like it might have a ring in it!

She gasps and accepts the small box….and excitedly opens it. There it is!  A beautiful personalized engagement ring meant only for her and only from him!

Lost in wonder, she pulls the ring and box close to her chest and begins dancing up and down the beach giving thanks for the ring!  She has an engagement ring!  Drunk with delight, she completely forgets about the ash-fallen man still kneeling on the sand behind her as she frolicks down the beach alone.

She’s thankful for the ring!

Now, wait a minute. Let’s go to take two.

The groom gives her the ring, she opens it and bursts into a tearful shout of joy! She admires the ring, but quickly closes the box and jumps into the smiling guy’s arms because the ring is all nice and good–but what she really appreciates, loves, and is thankful for, is him.

It’s not the gift that is most important. It is the loving heart of the giver that is most to be cherished. In this scene, the two love birds then walk arm in arm down the beach holding the ring but truly being thankful for each other–not the stuff.

That’s the higher level of thanksgiving. It must be directed at a person, not at things.

Material things are good. They are blessings in our lives. But loving relationships–the source of all gifts–are far more important than the things.

And the giver of all good things is God (James 1:17).

Our thanks must be directed to a Person who loves us, died for us, and wants us to be with Him forever. Some don’t do it because acknowledging Him demands that they give Him his rightful place in their lives–as Savior, Lord, and Friend.

Those who love Him do. Thus the Bible focuses thanksgiving and praise toward God, not his blessings. “Give thanks TO THE LORD” ( i.e. Psalm 106:1 and Psalm 136:1).

Don’t settle for a lower level of thanksgiving this year. Lovingly submit to God. Pray for those who are angry and bitter, appreciate deeply the blessings of your life, but in everything:

Give thanks TO THE LORD.

Happy Thanksgiving.






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