At a time when people are questioning the history and origins of this holiday and when life is heavy and hard for so many, the question is legitimate.
Why should I be thankful? And for what?
Gone are the days when kids dressed up as Pilgrims and Native Americans, sharing a meal together. The first Thanksgiving has become a symbol of pain and loss for many Native Americans.
When President Abraham Lincoln declared a day of national Thanksgiving on November 26, 1863, it was in gratitude for a victory at Gettysburg on October 3, 1863, a pivotal win for the Union in the Civil War.
The south lost that battle. Gettysburg tallied more than 23,000 deaths.
When President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, that established the federal Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday in November, it was barely three weeks after America entered World War II because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. deaths in that war totaled more than 291,000.
All this reflects pain and loss. Why should we be thankful?
We act as if thankfulness is found only in times of joy and prosperity when life feels right and circumstances are going in our favor.
This year, with COVID keeping many families and friends apart, it feels more like a season of sadness rather than gratitude. There will be many missing from some tables because of the virus; many more who are too ill to participate.
What’s so great about gratitude when life is filled with loss, loneliness, and despair?
Being thankful is a choice, a lifestyle of seeing past problems to the confidence that God has given us something greater. Gratitude doesn’t come easily; it’s choosing to focus on hope, the anticipation of what could be, and the recognition of the blessings that are.
We settle so quickly for discontentment. It seems to be our default when life doesn’t go our way or when someone or something stands between us and our desires. We too easily blame others for our misery.
That makes us self-serving and self-focused. Which will never be a cause for gratitude because we will never have all we want or strive for.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was imprisoned and then executed by Hitler during World War II, had an attitude about gracious thanksgiving that belied his circumstances. Even while in prison, he understood the gift of gratitude. He said, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
God encourages us to be thankful in all things. It’s easy to be gracious when we get what we want. But in the hard spaces of life, where everything feels unfair, when we are unjustly wronged or accused, God encourages us to thank Him for those things. It’s an acknowledgment that He is greater than our circumstances.
Life is a gift that we haven’t earned. Our stories may not always be how we’d like them written, but we have the choice of how to approach the life we have.
Complaint or gratitude?
Life is enriched with a grateful heart.
Gratitude brings hope.
That’s God’s promise.