Do We Really Have to Give Thanks This Year?

As we find ourselves in the month of November, we draw closer to one of our most important holidays:  Thanksgiving.  Why is it one of our most important?  Well, the importance of Thanksgiving (thankfully) hasn’t quite been diminished by commercialism or candy, and what that importance is, is the valuing of family and friends and recognizing the ways that we have been blessed and to be thankful to those around us and towards God.  Further, I believe that the giving of thanks is a humbling exercise that helps us put and keep life in proper perspective.  That perspective is much needed right now.

In normal years I believe that we find, at least the basic giving of thanks, fairly easy to do.  But this is not a normal year, and it may be harder to find and give thanks.  You see, in order to give thanks, we must first have the thanks in us.  Only what is already in us, stored up in our hearts and minds, can we give to others and to God.  So how do we get the thanks in us in the first place?

As we navigate through this life there are all sorts of experiences and information that comes our way.  The task that each of us have is to sort through and interpret all of those experiences and information and decide what to reject and what to incorporate into our lives.   So, for example, if our focus and attention is on the negative that happens to us and around us we may interpret that as “woe is me,” or “everything’s falling apart,” or the ever-popular “that’s not fair.”  Through these interpretations of our lives we may begin to think that God is distant or doesn’t care about us.  We may even grow angry or bitter towards Him and others around us, and the thanks will not be given out very freely.

We are not alone in this.  The writers of the Psalms and Proverbs also often struggled to see things from God’s perspective.  Psalm 10 is a good example of this.  The opening words of the Psalm have a negative and even accusatory tone: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”  Yes, the Biblical writers questioned God and His provision and sovereignty.  We may be able to relate.  Now, if that’s where we stayed, if that was our attitude all of the time, then we would certainly become bitter and untrusting of God.  But thankfully, the psalmist doesn’t stay there, and gives us a path to clearer thinking and a humble and grateful heart.  You see, it is not we that fill ourselves back up and bring peace and clarity to our hearts and minds, but rather it is God who does that.  The psalmist is reminded, not of his own goodness, but of God’s love and greatness so that by the end of the psalm he can declare: “The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.  You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed.”

It can be easy to see the negative, and we can’t pretend the negative is not there.  We still have a pandemic raging, we still have great racial and political division and discord in our country, we still have injustice being done.  But this Thanksgiving season may our eyes, ears, and hearts be tuned to the goodness and love of God.  Yes, it’s been rough, but He has not abandoned us.  May we be filled with gratitude for all of the ways He has watched over us and cared for us, and may that gratitude then flow out of us towards others and back to God Himself.