The command to give thanks is one of the more difficult spiritual practices to integrate consistently into our daily lives. Why?
Part of the reason is that most of our families and cultures are strong on complaining, criticism, and fault-finding. Yet few are strong in expressing thanks. So when Scripture highlights that the sins of our families goes back three to four generations, we forget this applies to being grateful as well.
The first U.S.A. Thanksgiving celebration was born out of a time of great hardship and sorrow. On September 16, 1620, 102 passengers sailed for religious freedom and a better way of life on the Mayflower, landing in Massachusetts. By spring, nearly half of the original group had died. Nonetheless, these Pilgrims held a feast of thanksgiving to praise God after their first harvest in 1621.
How were they able to give thanks to God as the source of all goodness in the midst of such loss? What did they have in their “bones” of discipleship that we lack today? I suspect it was a slow, lifetime journey of discerning God’s hidden purposes in, through, and in spite of hardships and disappointments.
While I continue to grow in appreciating all of life as a miracle, three people have especially helped me:
- Albert Borgmann, a Christian philosopher, breaks down a lifestyle of thanksgiving to four affirmations. Each serves as an antidote to our restlessness and discontent: 1. There is no place I would rather be. 2. There is nothing I would rather do. 3. There is no one I would rather be with. 4. This I will remember well. i
- Francis of Assisi said: “Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall enjoy everything.” He understood that none of us can earn the beauty of a star in the sky or a sunset on the horizon, and that our utter dependence on God is the very rock of reality.
- John O’Donohue, an Irish poet, put it this way: “Because we are so engaged with the world, we usually forget how fragile life can be and how vulnerable we always are. It takes only a couple of seconds for a life to change irreversibly.” ii
Take a few moments this week, perhaps around the table with friends or family, and complete the following sentence stem: One specific way God came to me this past year for which I am thankful is… (You may want to include miracles such as good health, specific people in your life, possessions, opportunities, trials, disappointments, closed doors, spiritual blessings, etc.).
i. Quoted in Arthur Boers, Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), 185.
ii. John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 49.