Tomorrow we celebrate the beautiful American tradition of Thanksgiving, a time to gather with family and friends, eat way too much turkey and stuffing, load up on pumpkin pie, watch football, take a nap….and oh, yeah, be thankful! As I read about the history of this celebration, I was reminded that it was officially made a National holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. It was in the heat of the Civil War, and President Lincoln finally gave in to the 36-year crusade of Sarah Josepha Hale (editor and writer of Ladies Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book) to make this an official holiday. Buoyed by the Union victory at Gettysburg, Mr. Lincoln established the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. Harvest celebrations were nothing new, but this was the first time it became an official federal holiday. As I think about this happening in the heat of our nation’s bloodiest war, I can’t help but think about how poignant that is as it relates to our faith. It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well. But what about when we’re in the heat of the battle in our everyday lives? Those are the times when gratitude is harder to muster. Yet I would argue and the Bible tells us that those are exactly the times when we need it the most! And science also backs this up! Research has proven that giving thanks and being grateful improves your mental and physical health. Some of the benefits include improving your sleep, decreasing depression and anxiety, and gratitude even helps lessen chronic pain and the risk of disease. In other words, God hard-wired us to be grateful. It’s good for us. So instead of just stuffing ourselves to the point of being miserable, I wonder if we could spend at least a portion of the day acknowledging the things we are grateful for. Instead of rushing back for more pumpkin pie, maybe it would do our souls some good to feast on a plate of thankfulness first, because here’s the deal, our gratitude glorifies God, the giver of every good gift. I have found that the more I approach life from a place of being thankful, the more and more I see God’s presence in every part of my life, even the hard parts. When life feels overwhelming and situations feel out of control, when life feels like an epic battle, stopping and acknowledging the gifts God has blessed me with changes everything. It opens my spiritual eyes and gives me that supernatural peace we all long for in our loud, crazy, chaotic world. It’s one of the beautiful promises we find in His Word:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
Notice that verse says that we need to go to God with our needs, wants, and desires with thanksgiving. Yes, present your requests, complain a bit if you need to; but just do it from a place that also acknowledges that every breath on this earth is a gift from God. When we don’t include that gratitude piece, we tend to stuff ourselves with negative things like self-pity, fear, and doubt. I’ve done that plenty of times, and I can testify that it definitely doesn’t lift up your spirits. Reality is, we may not have a Civil War raging around us, but life can sure get noisy. I know my Thanksgiving will be super loud as I gather with 55 to 60 of my family members. Crazy, right! I don’t anticipate any fights breaking out around me; but let’s be real, at least one person in that gathering is going to annoy me at one point or another! It just can’t be helped! Yet I am feeling a very distinct nudge, dare I say push, from the Holy Spirit to enter our gathering this year with a heart stuffed full of God’s gratitude and love. I want to guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus so I see others the way He sees them, filled with grace and deserving of my unconditional love.
Gratitude may not be able to change our situation or quiet our noisy world, but it absolutely can change our perspective. It gives us eyes to see what we do have instead of what we don’t as we take the time to see every moment as a gift. It enables us to shower love instead of judgment as we appreciate and acknowledge the grace we ourselves have been given. It empowers us to live in the present instead of worrying about the future when we thank God for His provision along the way.
Gratitude is a choice that is the gateway to joy and happiness.
As you gather with your family and friends tomorrow, or even if you have to spend this holiday alone, I encourage you to choose what you stuff yourself with. Hopefully you’ll have a crazy good meal and take a great nap, but I pray you also devour a huge helping of gratitude!
Hugs and love,