Many families had to forgo their gathering for Thanksgiving this year, choosing a few empty places at the table now to avoid permanent empty places for years to come.

This Thanksgiving was different, unlike years past when our children, grandchildren and extended family assembled at multiple tables. Our granddaughter was in quarantine last week at college where she tested positive for COVID-19. The rest of us are taking precautions.

Elementary school stages remained empty. We missed watching the children reenact the “first Thanksgiving” with flat-brimmed pilgrim hats, bonnets, painted faces and feathers. Packed rooms of adoring parents were too risky.

This is a difficult year, which makes “Thanksgiving” all-the-more important. The official annual holiday began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks. He issued his proclamation in the middle of the Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battle fields at Antietam, Gettysburg and Chickamauga. Families were gripped with grief. But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.

After noting the many blessings of God, in spite of the Civil War with all its suffering and severity, Lincoln wrote in his proclamation: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. ... I do invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States ... to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

In times of prosperity and peace, in times of war and want, throughout the Great Depression and the Great Recession, we’ve paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to be thankful. This year, we know that more than 250,000 families grieve the loss of a life claimed by COVID-19.

Nevertheless, we give thanks for the goodness with which God has blessed us. We give thanks for vaccines soon to be distributed. We give thanks for doctors and nurses who’ve helped many recover and continue to care for those who fall sick. We give thanks for workers who’ve put their lives on the line to provide essential services.

Nothing is more important than cultivating a grateful and thankful heart. We all experience blessing and loss. God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. The same circumstances sow the seeds of bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The fruit is ours to choose. The former leads to death. The latter leads to life.

The Bible is clear about the importance of Thanksgiving. “But as for me, afflicted and in pain — may your salvation God protect me. I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:29-30). “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. Visit www.tinsleycenter.com. Email bill@tinsleycenter.com.

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