The trees have turned. Many have dropped their leaves. Winter is at the door, and COVID has loosened its grip. Football is in the air, stadiums are packed and the Cowboys are finally winning again.
Thoughts turn to a shared table overflowing with turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pecan pie and “home.” This year is especially meaningful after last year’s isolation and Zoom. Many are making plans to travel. I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it.
Thanksgiving is special to the American experience. George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789. But the official annual holiday began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks. When he issued his proclamation, our nation was embroiled in Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battlefields. Families were gripped with grief. But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.
In times of prosperity and want, in times of war and peace, throughout the Great Depression, the Great Recession and last year’s pandemic, we have paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to remember and to be thankful.
For this one day, at least, we make sure the homeless and the hungry are fed. On this day, we lay down our tools and gather around tables with those whom we love the most. We’re not burdened with the buying and giving of gifts. We simply pause to enjoy one another and the goodness with which God has blessed us.
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 faithful and the unfaithful must weather the same storms. We all experience life, love and loss that we don’t deserve. We often can’t choose our circumstances, but we can choose our response; bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The former leads to death. The latter leads to life.
The Bible is clear about the importance of thanksgiving. The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving and praise. Jeremiah envisioned desolate Jerusalem restored with gratitude saying: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting’” (Jeremiah 33:11). Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6).