In a few short days, Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving. In many ways, this day is a uniquely American holiday. While many of us will be lamenting our over- eating of the turkey dinner, a majority will be looking forward to feasting on a vast array of football games.
In the back of our minds are the many blessings that we are thankful for.
Many of us associate Thanksgiving with the landing of the Pilgrims at Cape Cod, Mass. Although we often confuse these early settlers with the Puritans who arrived ten years later, we cannot discount their thanksgiving celebration to God.
They had just gone through a devastating winter as a result of arriving on Nov. 20, 1620. Despite all the mistakes that were made and the loss of many members of their group, the Pilgrims were thankful for the blessings of another year.
Why were they so thankful? Could it be the freedom they had to worship God? Might it also be the gratitude they had to the Native Americans who helped them survive the first year?
Fast forward about 243 years. In the midst of the tragic Civil War and the terrible carnage of Gettysburg, President Lincoln was moved to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.
The United States was still at war. Over 600,000 lives would be lost on the battlefield. The economy of the South was utterly destroyed. Families were permanently divided. People were without homes.
Some were scrounging for food. It was still uncertain if the United States would remain as one nation. What was in Lincoln’s life which would motivate him to authorize a day separate for declaring thanks?
In both of these examples, the American people were facing incredible circumstances. They were situations most of us fortunately have not had to face. How is it possible that one could have such a spirit of thanksgiving in the face of such terrible odds? How does one acquire such an attitude?
It would seem that one must be grateful for what one has regardless how meager it might be. A multitude of material goods does not seem to be a prerequisite for thankfulness.
In one period of whining and self-pity, my wife “suggested” I write down five things I am thankful for. I began a habit of doing such an exercise every day. It is amazing what one can learn about gratitude through this practice.
Examples abound throughout the history of people who were in dire straits and still remained thankful. The apostle Paul gave thanks even when he was in prison. One of the ten lepers Jesus healed came back to give thanks. When people were healed in the Gospels, a sense of gratitude prevailed in some of their lives.
Page 2 of 2 - It would seem that thankfulness becomes an attitude rather than what we possess or what we might receive. On the other hand, many people who have been gifted with great wealth, fine health, outstanding athleticism, or unwarranted fame are not always thankful.
In my humble estimation, humans often become truly grateful when we lose something and then gain it back. For example, often we become truly thankful when we receive something without earning or deserving it. Gratitude abounds when a blind person receives his sight after a period of darkness. It might be when one is cured of cancer, or when a paralyzed person suddenly can walk and becomes truly thankful, or as one who has always had good health now sees his friend’s struggle with health issues.
How does a person deal with these concerns and remain positive and uplifting? As a person who often faces such challenges, one has probably three choices. The first approach is to bemoan the fact that things will never be the same. People really do not want to always hear complaints. The second approach is to move forward in life. Often the example of others is inspiration to continue on. The third approach is to strengthen your faith and to accept the things in your life you cannot change. In reality we have often experienced each one of these approaches.
Thanksgiving will be here in a few days. Christmas decorations and holiday greetings are with us already. It is a shame that the one truly original American holiday often gives way to the December spending spree which we call the Christmas Holidays.
In closing, it would be a shame to not say thanks for the faith I have, the health I have, the family I have, the food and shelter I have which I often take for granted, and for the friends I have who inspire me to live the abundant life. Most recently those friends include a group of distinguished colleagues who meet at McDonald’s to support each other. I am truly blessed.