Nearly 400 years ago, the celebration of what we now know as Thanksgiving began with a group of pilgrims and American Indians over a three-day autumn feast. It was the pilgrims who were thankful. The first years of their settlement in the “New World” had not been a pleasant experience. Imagine: a new climate, new animals, new diseases. The crops grew differently here, if at all. Illnesses they had never encountered were reducing their numbers quickly.
Things looked bleak for the colonists until the native Indians assisted them, showing them how to survive in this new land and how to grow food. This resulted in an overflowing bounty at harvest, and as a result the two groups celebrated with gratitude for their new life and new relationships.
Years later, in the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared the final Thursday of every November a national Thanksgiving holiday. To quote, “These bounties which are so constantly enjoyed are the gracious gifts of the Most High God. … I do therefore invite my fellow citizens to set apart a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Today we live in a society of unprecedented privilege, but this sacred day of thanksgiving has become mostly about overeating, football games and shopping. In light of these gluttonous pleasures, God is barely mentioned. How did this happen?
I believe that the evils of entitlement and complaining have crowded out gratitude in our faith and culture.
Entitlement starves the heart of thanksgiving because it tells us that we deserve everything and more. The conveniences of fast processed food, world travel and instant Internet access have fueled this. Fifteen years ago, people didn’t panic if they left their cell phone behind. Nowadays, we are addicted to access. We must have just the right blend of creamer and sugar in our flavored coffee or we become unhappy. If the store doesn’t have the sort of bread or clothing I want, I become irate, treating others poorly and wondering why I have it so bad.
This leads to complaining. It is a cheap gift indeed, being able to always point out the wrongs in everyone and everything.
The Bible encourages us toward thankfulness instead. Ephesians tells me to “always be thankful for everything.” In the Old Testament, the giving of thanks was actually a part of the worship service, being found in about one-third of the Psalms. One of them, Psalm 50, says that “a thankful heart prepares the way for God.” I can invite God into me by being thankful.
Let’s make a choice to see all of life as a gift. Let’s approach today not as a greedy consumer, but as a grateful beneficiary. Our food, our friends, the air we breathe and beating of our hearts – all is a gift. May we be quiet and humbly thankful.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is a marvelous little book about gratitude. He leaves us with this: “With these reflections I worked my mind up even to a sincere thankfulness for my condition; that I, who was yet a living man, ought not to complain, seeing I had not the due punishment of my sins; that I ought never more to repine at my condition, but to rejoice, and to give daily thanks for that daily bread which nothing but a crowd of wonders could have brought; that I ought to consider I had been fed even by a miracle.”
THE REV. JEFF MILLER IS THE PASTOR OF VINEYARD COMMUNITY CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.