Thoughts for the Soul

Giving Thanks

Posted on: Nov 10, 2022

Our national myth names the Pilgrims as the originators of what has become our modern Thanksgiving, expressing their gratitude to God for their first harvest and having survived their first year in Plymouth.

Actually, Spaniards and the French conducted Thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States in the 16th century. And Thanksgiving services were routine in what became Virginia as early as 1607.

Abraham Lincoln was the first to institute Thanksgiving as a national holiday, establishing a regular rhythm to its occurrence. Our contemporary practice of holding Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November wasn’t firmly established, however, until 1942 by an act of Congress.

Today, more people travel to be with loved ones during Thanksgiving weekend than for any other holiday. Thanksgiving traditions seem to evoke a security that comes with being with family. Usually unspoken is the sense of gratitude folks may also have when they gather together with the significant others who share their lives.

Our churches, our communities and our country would all be better off if we gave more attention to being grateful. To that end, I share the following essay.
— Pastor Fogal

Finding Gratitude
by Johann Christoph Arnold

Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light. Give thanks for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.  — Ascribed to Chief Tecumseh

The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart once suggested that if the only prayer we ever said was “thank-you,” it would suffice. If we take this advice superficially, it might be easy enough to follow. Yet to give thanks to God from the bottom of our hearts for all God gives, and to live every day in a spirit of gratefulness, is work for a lifetime. What does it mean to be thankful?

Henri Nouwen writes:

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives — the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections — that requires hard spiritual work.

Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.

Let us not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.

It is just as important to be thankful for the bad things that happen to us as for the good things. So long as we shrink from every predicament, ever situation that frightens us or sets us on edge, we will never know peace.

This does not mean we must silently accept everything that comes our way. Jesus himself says we should pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” But because there is so much in life we cannot control, we must learn to look at things that test us not as obstacles, but as opportunities for growth.

If we truly mean the words, “Thy will be done,” we will gratefully receive whatever God sees fit to give us. Even the children of Israel were answered with a rod of punishment at times. They did not receive only manna from heaven. As for the good things — family, food, house, friends, love, work — if we are honest, we must admit that we often take them for granted . . . .

In my experience, the most common root of ungratefulness is not hardship, but a false understanding of happiness . . . . The presence of absence of hardship need not have anything to do with our state of mind or soul. “God alone suffices.” If only that thought would arouse in us the endless gratitude that it should!

Nothing can satisfy us when selfish expectations make us discontented with our lot; hence the cliché, “The pasture is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

So long as our vision is limited by the blinders of our own wants and needs, we will not be able to see the wants and needs of others, let alone the things we have to be grateful for.

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