Thursday is Thanksgiving here in America. And while this is a day specifically dedicated toward thankfulness and gratitude, we must not forget giving thanks ought to be a way of life for the people of God.
I point this out because it’s possible we struggle to live the kind of life defined by gratitude. Perhaps this is one reason Thanksgiving is overlooked in the mad rush toward Christmas. Christmas, for many, is about getting more. Thanksgiving is about saying “thank you” for what we have already been given.
We need to practice the art of thankfulness each and everyday of our lives. If we were to do this, chances are we would find ourselves more content, more generous and wanting less. It seems however, many of us struggle to live each day in humble gratitude.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a few people and asked, “What are you grateful for?” There was stunned silence. No one in that group could answer quickly. I then asked why they had a hard time responding. One of them said, “I just don’t think about thankfulness very much.”
For Americans especially, Thanksgiving is a time when we can think more specifically about what we’re thankful for. But let’s not just think about being grateful. There are a few things we can observe and practice that will cause us to be more grateful in the days and weeks ahead.
So, what are these things we ought to observe and practice ? Awareness, memory and grace.
Awareness has fallen on hard times. One’s ability to be present is waning. There are millions of things grabbing at our attention in our world today. Thanks to technology, we can take in more things than ever.
We do all we can to ensure we don’t miss anything, and in doing so, we miss everything. We have distanced ourselves from what is right in front of us, and this is to our detriment. We live in the midst of the miraculous and miss much of it.
When was the last time you sat and watched a sunset? When was the last time you looked deeply into the eyes of your partner? When was the last time you listened to a friend as he or she spoke to you? When was the last time you truly paid attention?
Chances are, responding to that question is not an easy one. If we are honest about our struggle with awareness it can lead us to learn an important lesson. When most of our attention is stripped from us, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the things for which we should be thankful, because, well, we don’t see them. As we practice being thankful, perhaps the first thing we can do is practice presence.
Take one night this week or one day over the weekend to pay attention. Walk around your house or apartment and take in all you’ve been given. Go on a walk and notice the sun, the trees, the snow and the miracle of our world. Spend time with a loved one and ask them about their hopes and dreams and enjoy listening.
I suspect if you do this you will find yourself saying “thank you” in an almost involuntary way. Because when we are aware, we are able to behold the miraculous.
Many of us speak of struggle to remember to say “thank you.” But our struggle to remember runs deeper than that. The most common command found in the first five books of the Bible is to “remember.” Why? Because humans have proven we are skilled at forgetting.
We quickly forget all the good that exists when pain or suffering enters into our lives. We forget the years of good, healthy relationship when a friend hurts us. Likewise, we forget all we have been given when we identify something we want. It’s not so much that we forget to say “thank you,” but that we forget God’s faithfulness to us each and every day. As we practice being thankful we need to learn how to remember.
Over the next several days let’s put our phones to good use. Take a picture of all the things for which you are grateful. At the end of the day, scroll through the photos as a way of reminding yourself of the things you experienced that day.
Pause on each photo, remind yourself of why you took the photo and offer the simple prayer, “Thank you.” This will be a first step in remembering, and will help you to remember every good gift comes from above.
Grace says good things are given to us no matter who we are or what we have done. This is why grace is so scandalous. We live in a world that teaches us we have to earn things or do work hard to get what we want.
On top of this, many in our world have settled into an attitude of entitlement, which is the opposite of thankfulness. Entitlement believes good things are owed to us. Entitlement leaves little room for grace.
But grace invites us to understand this: everything is a gift.
All we have has been given to us regardless of what we have done to make ourselves or others think we deserve it. And this is something that should keep us in a place of saying “thank you” every moment for the rest of our lives.
This week, take some time to do an inventory of all the good things in your life—relationships, possessions, health, employment, education, etc. Pick one for which you are particularly grateful and then work your way back toward how that came to be in your life.
Did you earn it? Then ask, “Who gave me the ability or skills to earn it?” Is it a relationship that has made you better? Then ask, “How much has this person selflessly given for my benefit?”
The further back we go, the more we will discover that grace stands silently behind all we have, gently reminding us life itself is a gift.
So may you, during this Thanksgiving season, be aware of the good in your life, remember all you have been given and have the eyes to see that everything is a gift. And may this awareness, memory and grace lead you to pray these simple yet profound words: “Thank You.”