Yes, I know that today is not Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I know that the official American holiday falls on the fourth Thursday in November, not the third. So, yes, I know that I’m a week early. But I’d like to begin to offer some thoughts on Thanksgiving, even though we won’t be sitting down to a Turkey dinner for another 168 hours or so.
Why start a conversation about Thanksgiving now? I do not mean in any way to undermine the power of the traditional holiday. I think it’s great that the United States continues to set apart a day a year for giving thanks. And I think it’s doubly great that most of us still believe that Thanksgiving is a day for actually giving thanks to God, not just a time for feeling nebulously thankful. My hope is that by writing about Thanksgiving a week early, I might actually enhance your celebration, not detract from it. Thus, today’s post will be the first of several on giving thanks.
There is a danger, I believe, in identifying one day a year as Thanksgiving Day. It’s the danger of implying that thanks is due on this day, but not on others. We face a similar danger, for example, when we designate the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Shouldn’t children honor their mothers more than once a year? Similarly, shouldn’t we be thankful more often than once a year on the fourth Thursday of November?
As a Christian, I would argue that giving thanks to God is important because it honors God. I would also argue that consistent gratitude is consistent with biblical teaching. But there is also case for gratitude that doesn’t depend on biblical theology. In fact, it appeals to common sense and even self interest. To put the matter bluntly: Gratitude will improve your life.
Gratitude magnifies our experience of the good things in life, enabling us to enjoy them more thoroughly. Gratitude also helps us to endure the hard things in life with dignity, perhaps even with humor. Gratitude is like savoring a fine meal, enjoy every bite, rather than racing through a meal as if it’s some sort of race.
Let me offer a person example of what I’m talking about here. I was able to go to college because I received generous financial aid. Harvard expected me to earn a fair amount of money through working, both during the summers and the school years. I was also required to take out a reasonable loan. But the majority of my tuition, room, and board was covered by a grant from the school. This was not a merit-based scholarship, I might add. I’m not bragging here. Harvard’s assistance was based on financial need, of which I had plenty. (Photo: Straus Hall, my freshman dorm.)
During my first fall in college, I received a letter from the financial aid office informing me that there was a special fund for students who needed to buy a winter coat. If I would show up at the financial aid office at certain designated times, I would receive some extra funds to help me get ready for winter. I thought this was amazing, and I did need a winter coat. So I arrived at the appropriate office at one of the identified times. I joined the end of a line that might have included 25 other freshman students. Calculating how long it took each student to get their share of money, I figured I would be in line for a half-hour to an hour. That was just fine with me.
As I was standing there, I felt waves of gratitude. I was thankful for the privilege of being part of a university that cared about my physical well-being. I was thankful for those who had given money to support this effort. I was thankful to God for his multiple blessings.
My little reverie of gratitude was suddenly interrupted by a student who was ahead of me in line. He was mad. He resented having to wait in line for his coat money. Speaking loudly to no one in particular, he said, “I can’t believe they’re making us wait like this. I have things to do. Why can’t they hurry up? Hey, JUST GIVE ME MY MONEY!”
I was shocked. I couldn’t believe his sense of entitlement and ingratitude. Such attitudes were not only rude and selfish. They were also stealing his joy. There I was, with my heart warmed by thankfulness, whereas this other student was groveling in anger and resentment. I realized that I was so much happier than he was, and I even felt thankful for the ability to feel thankful.
Those of us who go through life like that ungrateful student are simply missing out on so much joy. We are cheating ourselves, not to mention those who have been gracious to us, including God. But we are also cheating ourselves, big time.
As we approach Thanksgiving Day, perhaps you and I ought to step back and consider our attitudes. Are we like that ungrateful student? Or are we allowing thankfulness to enrich our lives? Why not start giving thanks today? You don’t have to wait a week!