Think before you thank

Yeah, I know. You’re busy with the turkey.

I’ll try to keep this short.

Thanksgiving Day: a day for remembering all the reasons we have for being grateful. Its origins lie in the celebration of a good harvest. But for those of us who buy our food from supermarkets, who take for granted that we can get nearly anything we want at any time of year, it’s hard to imagine the importance of that celebration. So much depended on the harvest. It was survive for another year, or starve.

This year, I’m thinking about the common Thanksgiving ritual in which family and friends gather around the table not just to eat, but to say what they’re thankful for that year. Some answer eagerly because they truly feel blessed, perhaps for the very gift of being alive. Some begin to panic as their turn approaches: Quick, think of something! You’re going to look like Scrooge if you don’t!  And often, a teenager can be counted on to roll his or her eyes and give a snarky answer, frustrating the parent who had hoped for a memorable spiritual moment.

Let me be clear: I believe that it is right and good to give thanks to our God. That’s sound biblical practice.

But how do we give thanks, and for what?

As I write this, I’m keenly aware of the stories dominating the local and national news these days. I live in California, where wildfires have destroyed thousands of acres and homes and claimed dozens of lives. I think of the storms and floods that have ravaged other parts of the country. I think of the families who have lost loved ones in senseless acts of gun violence.

And that’s on top of the everyday loss and suffering that doesn’t make the news.

So, what are we thankful for?

We don’t want to take any of God’s gifts for granted. But neither should we be grateful in ways that unwittingly separate humanity into “haves” and “have-nots.” I still have things that other people have lost or have never had. I get to sit at a table with people I love and stuff myself silly.

I’m not saying, of course, that we shouldn’t be grateful for these things.

The question is whether we could still be thankful to God even if all of it was taken away. As the faithful and righteous man Job once said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21, NRSV).

Would we be able to say that?

Maybe, this year, we can think before we thank.

How do we cultivate hearts that can still be grateful even if everything we take for granted were taken away? By learning to be grateful for the things that can’t be taken away — the knowledge of the gracious character of God, the fact that we are his beloved children, the promise of our eternal destiny with him.

For all these gifts, may our hearts be truly grateful.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all.