“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24
Do you live in America? Then, for you and for me, today is Thanksgiving, a special day. In recent weeks, the news media have decried the creep of the holiday season earlier and earlier into the fall. Black Friday? The day after Thanksgiving that once upon a time signaled the start of Christmas shopping? So yesterday! This year, some stores are starting their sales at 10:00 p.m. Thanksgiving evening.
Back in the day, grocers would be closed on Thanksgiving, so that virtually all Americans could focus on family and celebration. Nowadays, stores are open at least for part of the day so that shoppers can pick up last-minute items. As my sister-in-law observed this morning, modern Thanksgiving is only for a favored few whose employers still give them the day off. A lot of people are working today – keeping the lights on, the water and other critical infrastructure humming, staffing restaurants and entertainment centers – all for the benefit of the rest of us.
But at least in tradition and in concept, Thanksgiving is a day for all of us to give thanks. Amidst the busyness – all the cooking, the travel, the convening of family, the catching up, the football, and all the joy of the occasion, and the work, the thankfulness is sometimes confined to a short grace before the major meal. Sometimes you and I might hear the verse above, from Psalms, or a similar sentiment.
A bit compressed! But it’s still an element of the day. Even consigned to the background, it’s nonetheless a welcome thread running throughout.
Want to get a little more in touch with gratitude? Here are three dimensions you and I can reflect on: for what are we thankful? How can we express our thankfulness? And finally, to whom are we thankful?
For what are we thankful? For those harvesting energy, food, and water from the Earth, protecting the environment, or building resilience to natural hazards, we covered some of this in the previous post. Often it’s natural to be thankful for material wealth, or good health, etc. But these are not available to each of us in equal measure, are they? So this area is always problematic, humbling. [More in a bit.] But there are certain dimensions to our lives that are more universal, more fundamental. They offer stronger rationale for thankfulness. They include but are not limited to: meaning in our lives and work; family and other significant relationships; and second chances.
A lot of us are so numbed by life’s pace and especially the pace in the workplace that we lose sight of how we matter, how we’re making a difference. Take a moment to consider, honestly, your contributions. If you’re like most of us, you’ll have a diminished view of these. Don’t settle for that! Keep thinking of ways you matter in this world until you have a fair list. You’ll be cheered up by the result if you keep at it. Still having problems? Then maybe you could make this a project of a week’s duration. During the coming several days, keep a notepad by your side and jot down additions as they occur to you. They will, if you let them. Do this conscientiously, and you and I will be thankful.
And family? Your family members are more than names or people filling a noisy room. They’ve all played a role in making you and me who we are. Even if you and I have been angry at, vexed with, or saddened by each and every one of them…upon reflection, we can come to understand and appreciate the ways both deliberate and unintended in which they’ve encouraged us, strengthened us, made us better people, brought us joy. Think on this, and you and I will be thankful.
Second chances? Somehow life gives us a series of mulligans. At work, in relationships, in virtually every arena, each day is a new day, a chance to recover from past frustrations, a fresh chance to achieve goals and aspirations of long standing. For the most part, mistakes are not fatal. We can be thankful for all this…for the chance to make our way through life largely by correcting our past mistakes, learning from experience, growing.
How can we express our thankfulness? We all know the obvious one: say thank you. This is especially important for leaders. Here’s what Max DePree had to say on the subject, in his book Leadership is an Art: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader”
But gratitude is about more than saying thanks, isn’t it? Gratitude is about action. As DePree says, it’s about small and large acts of service and kindness. Thanksgiving is an excellent day to be a source of such acts, not simply a recipient. We get access to extended family members and friends, and we get to encourage and nurture them. If we seize these moments, today will be a good day.
To whom are we thankful?
A lot of choices here, aren’t there? Our family and friends? And also those strangers, all those people we don’t know who are defending the country, at home and abroad, staffing the police and fire stations, providing services, maintaining critical infrastructure? Absolutely! Here’s a passage from the Old Testament/Torah that captures some of that. God is bringing his people into the Promised Land. Moses says:
“10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-12.
When we “eat and are satisfied,” we do well to reflect that most of us didn’t really grow the produce and raise the turkey we ate, or build the homes where we’re enjoying the meal, or furniture we’re sitting on, or the tableware we used…all those things are simply…there. But someone did through labor and effort create all those things. And as all of us – worldwide – lift our heads from our labors long enough to savor the moment and the thought, we certainly realize we owe thanks to each other. And we can be forgiven for wondering whether we shouldn’t be thankful for some larger generosity.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!