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Friday, November 18, 2005

Giving Thanks

The Thanksgiving holiday has crept up on many of us this year. Here in the South, the weather has just turned cool enough to make us wonder if autumn has really arrived. Not only that, Christmas ads began to appear on television and radio just after Halloween, making it seem as if Thanksgiving had been skipped this year. In fact, trying to recall any hullabaloo over Thanksgiving this annum is an arduous task.

Perhaps this suggests that Americans are too busy buying more stuff to be grateful. Why take time out to consider and appreciate all that we have when that time could be better spent getting more? On this end of the year, the holiday calendar—considering only the major holidays—goes from getting candy to giving thanks to getting presents, and which one of these does not look like the others?

Maybe Thanksgiving gets short shrift because its marketing department has not kept up with the times. Halloween has its grinning Jack-O’-Lantern, spooky ghosts, and frightful witches—all in their bright oranges, ghoulish greens, and macabre white on black. It is all quite visually stunning, and participants get mounds of sweets, to the delight of dentists everywhere.

The stars of Christmas, of course—jolly old St. Nick, red-nosed Rudolph, and cute little elves, nicely accented in reds, greens, and pure-as-the-driven-snow whites—are eye-candy, if there ever was such. When the big day arrives, the undersides of living-room conifers are piled high with glistening packages of loot, and revelers spend all of a few minutes ripping and tearing and goggling their gifts. Some even like them.

But Thanksgiving? Front and center are some dour-faced, buckled-down, blunderbuss-toting Puritans and their buckskin-clad sidekicks, the native Indians. Not to mention that no matter how hard an artist tries, it is impossible to make a turkey even remotely cute. And not to belabor the point, but Thanksgiving makes one feel obligated. That smacks of duty, indebtedness, accountability, gratefulness, and recompense, which are all subordinate positions and terribly formal and responsible. We like our holidays to be more uplifting and carefree—and certainly self-indulgent.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, it is assured that we will see or hear a reporter, microphone in hand, take a quick, man/woman-on-the-street poll, posing the question, “What do you have to be thankful for this year?” We will hear the usual responses: “I am thankful that . . .

. . . I can put food on my table.”

. . . my job is secure.”

. . . I live in the land of the free.”

. . . my student loan is finally paid off.”

. . . I can afford to buy heating oil this year.”

. . . the Michael Jackson trial is over.”

. . . I have lived to see both the Red Sox and the White Sox win a World Series.”

Most of these are wonderful blessings for which to be thankful. Many of us could say the same things. Yet, these are off-the-top-of-the-head, I-really-don’t-have-time-for-this responses. But what would we reply to such a question if we took the time to sit down and ponder what we really appreciate? If we took a deep look at our present circumstances and the state of the world, and imagined what life would be like if this had happened or that had not happened, for what would we give thanks? Whom would we thank?

Being appreciative is fine, but it means very little unless we act on it and actually thank the person who has made a difference in our lives. It is not good enough to feel grateful—all warm and gooey inside. That, in essence, is purely self-serving. One must give thanks for gratitude to be effective. Gratitude is like a present: worthless unless it is given.

The real reason Thanksgiving is not a wildly popular holiday in America is because Americans, frankly, do not want to give Almighty God any credit for their peace, plenty, and power. Why? They realize that acknowledging God’s part in America’s present prosperity or even in their personal lives would make them obligated to Him. They would be obliged to obey Him—and that would spoil all their fun! Instead, year by year, this holiday has turned into Turkey Day and little more.

Christians, more than ever, need to give thanks—and not just on Thanksgiving. Times are becoming tougher, the world is moving faster, and life is seeming more precarious with every passing day. Gratitude helps to lift us above these pessimisms, focusing us on what is good, making us count our blessings, forcing us to remember that we have help. And it reminds us that we do indeed have obligations to meet before God, divinely appointed responsibilities that we dare not shirk. Thus Paul writes, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil . . . giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15-16, 20).