Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

As you know, this coming Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Yet for many
of us, that day is so full of activity that we actually have little time
for intentional, extended giving thanks to God. So, as has been my
tradition for many years, I am putting up several posts in anticipation of
Thanksgiving Day in order to encourage my readers to let this whole
week by devoted to genuine gratitude.

When you think of Thanksgiving, what images come to mind? Roast
turkey? Pumpkin pie? Watching football with your family? Perhaps the
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

I
grew up watching this parade on television, marveling at the giant
helium balloon representations of Underdog and Bullwinkle, and waiting
for Santa to appear to kick off the Christmas shopping season. (Photo: Mr. Potato Head makes an appearance in the 2006 parade.)

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In 1982 I had the privilege of spending Thanksgiving Day in New York
City. Of course I had to see the Macy’s Parade in person. There,
standing alongside Central Park, I watched the bands and giant balloons
from only a few feet away. I discovered that it was a lot colder
watching the parade in person than from the comfortable vantage point of
my living room. But plenty of hot coffee kept me going through the
whole spectacle.

That
evening some friends and I had Thanksgiving dinner at the Helmsley
Palace Hotel. (Yes, the one once owned and managed by the infamous Leona
Helmsley and her husband. It’s now called the New York Palace.) We arrived an hour before our prearranged
sitting and enjoyed appetizers in the hotel bar. It was the most elegant
place I had ever enjoyed a drink and some peanuts. And, believe me, I
paid for every inch of elegance. Thanksgiving dinner was served in the
fabulously ritzy dining room. It was one of the most over-the-top meals
of my life.

But it still wasn’t quite right. After all, for me, the heart of the
Thanksgiving holiday isn’t going to parades or eating fancy meals. It’s
about sharing a day with family, and mine was 3,000 miles away. The best
tasting turkey in the most opulent dining room didn’t satisfy the real
longing of my heart – to be home.

I wasn’t the only one who felt such a longing. In fact the Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest travel weekend of the year. The American Automobile Association predicts
that 42.2 million people will travel at least 50 miles this year to
celebrate Thankgiving with friends or relatives. (How in the world do
they know that?) Most of these folks are driving to be with their relatives.

If
you think about it, however, the actual events of Thanksgiving Day can
be rather underwhelming. In addition to watching the Macy’s Parade, tens
of millions of people watch football, while tens of
millions of people cook mass quantities of traditional
food. Then they all get together to eat more than they should, only to
top off their gluttony with pumpkin or mince pie. Then there’s clean up,
a bit more TV, and that just about sums up the day for many of us. It’s
more about armchair quarterbacking and eating voraciously than our hearts.

A college friend of mine named Jeff decided one year that his
family’s Thanksgiving was far too secular. So Jeff, as a new Christian,
volunteered to say the blessing before the meal. It was usually done
perfunctorily by the most religious of the uncles, which wasn’t saying
much in Jeff’s family. But Jeff was going to redeem Thanksgiving once
and for all. So when it came time to pray, he started by thanking the
Lord for the family’s many blessings. Then he turned to larger issues,
expressing gratitude for freedom, for our country, and so on. Finally
Jeff got explicitly religious, using his prayer as an opportunity to
evangelize his godless relatives. After about five or six minutes, these
godless relatives were about ready tar and feather Jeff. Finally his
mother tapped his arm and said softly, “Honey, don’t you think it’s time
to eat now?” In response to which the slightly religious uncle yelled,
“Amen!” Jeff’s family immediately dug into the turkey, leaving Jeff
somewhere mid-sentence.

Now I do not recommend Jeff’s evangelistic strategy. But I do
appreciate his intentions. Thanksgiving should be about more than a parade, a gridiron battle,
and pumpkin pie. In spite of the modern penchant for referring to the
day as “Turkey Day,” it’s still meant to be a time for intentional
gratitude. This has been the point of Thanksgiving Day for throughout American history.

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Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to give up any of your prized
Thanksgiving traditions. Go ahead and watch the parade and the games, if
you wish. Drive several hours to grandma’s house and back. Eat way too
much turkey. Take a long nap. Or whatever. These can be delightful
traditions. (Photo: Some of my family members enjoying Thanksgiving dinner.)

But
I am going to ask you not to forget the heart of Thanksgiving. In fact,
I’m going to encourage you to let Thanksgiving be more than just a day.
Why not take time this whole week to remember God’s blessings and thank him for them? If your
Thanksgiving Day is already full with family folderol, then set aside
some time on the day before or the day after to remember all that God
has given, and to say “Thank you.” Better yet, do this for several
minutes each day this week. If you do, not only will you be doing the
right thing, since God deserves thanks for all he has done for you, but
also you will find that your celebration of Thanksgiving is richer and
fuller than you have imagined it could be.

Expressing heartfelt gratitude to God is one of life’s greatest joys.
It’s a joy that many of us rarely experience. And it is the true heart
of Thanksgiving. So let me invite you – yes, urge you – to take time
this week for real expression of gratitude to God. You’ll be glad you
did.

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