“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 106:1
It was November first, the day after Halloween. As I walked through my favorite grocery store, delightful music began to fill my head with visions of sugar plums. Red and green banners, signs, wreaths, and trees adorned displays and walkways. Santa appeared for the first time since last December, red-faced and jollier than ever. As I stared at the pre-lit Christmas tree in the produce aisle, I was overcome with the reality that our culture seems to jump right from trick-or-treating, to stocking-stuffers in the span of about 12 hours.
Usually, this would not bother me. Not only that, it would make me really, really happy. You see, I’m absolutely in love with Christmas. Presents under the tree, festive cookies, plastic nativity scenes in front yards, sentimental stories, sappy movies, beautiful traditions, great food, extra time with family, and parades in the frosty air make me happy. If radio stations started playing carols in October, I’d be fine with that. In fact, I start shopping for gifts in January. I’m always enchanted with the way the whole world seems to light up all at once. It’s like everyone is in the mood to agree that Jesus’ birth is a reason to celebrate. It’s true. Christmas can’t ever come fast enough for me… usually.
This year however, as I walked through that store, a new feeling began to take hold of my heart. I wondered why the world doesn’t stop and embrace Thanksgiving. What’s the rush? Sure, I’m still in love with Christmas, but why not savor November and all her treasures? Why press the fast forward button through autumn? The more I think about it, I believe it’s because the world just can’t commercialize Thanksgiving. There’s no way to make it about anything but being thankful. Every year, my beloved Christmas falls prey to the desire to buy more and better toys. But people just can’t find a way to corrupt Thanksgiving, can they? For anyone who doesn’t put their faith in Jesus, that’s a tough one, isn’t it? If they are setting aside a time to “be thankful” they have to decide who they are thankful to, and what they are being thankful for.
On that first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims thanked Almighty God for bringing them through an awful, deadly, hungry, struggle against the elements in a new land. They recognized that God’s own hand had aided them and kept them alive in the harshest of circumstances. They set aside a special time to honor God, and the new life He had carved out for them. Today, we remember Pilgrims, Indians, and God’s faithfulness to them all. We eat turkey in remembrance of their feast. But there’s more to this precious holiday that we, as believers can embrace.
Even though I didn’t personally struggle to start a new life here in America as the Pilgrims did, I actually am a Pilgrim of sorts. Webster’s Dictionary defines “Pilgrims” in part, this way: “…one who journeys in foreign lands: wayfarer”. As a Christian, I am living in a world that is not my home. I am traveling here for now, journeying through this life on my way to eternity with Christ. In the midst of my travels, I can see God guiding me, protecting me, saving my very life each day. I need to stop and thank God for that, the way the Pilgrims did in 1621. We all need to be more like the people of Plymouth. They were the kind of people who saw the value in stopping life for a bit, and giving thanks for the mercies poured from heaven upon them. And there’s more. Once we start saying it out loud, writing it down, and pondering it, we should be forced into action. When we understand the “thanks” part, and make it a part of our spiritual attitude, the “giving” should be close at hand.
The giving looks different for all of us. This is the actual act of giving praise and thanks to God for all things. About two years ago, I read an amazing book called, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. The main focus of the book was the author’s journey to writing down one thousand things she was thankful for. In the midst of doing that, she started the difficult journey of thanking God for all things. All things. Being thankful for my kids and my home isn’t hard. I don’t have trouble thanking God for food, a car to drive, and all blessings. But what about the difficulties in life? Can it be possible to maintain the spirit of thanks and giving in the middle of awful pain?
“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.” Ann says, in One Thousand Gifts.
That’s the “giving” part. To really give thanks, is to give it no matter what. The challenge is to give it when we think we aren’t satisfied and think we deserve more. I’m reminded of my daughter’s school book, the classic tale, “Pollyanna”. If you don’t know the story, Pollyanna is an orphan girl who is glad about everything. She seems addicted to this Glad Game she plays and draws everyone into the game with her. For example, she’s glad for a shipment of supplies with crutches in it, because she has no use for them! I have to say, at first, I found Pollyanna to be more than a little annoying. Why can’t she just let people feel things? Why does this little girl have to find gladness in everything- even the bad? What about the mother who loses a child, or a family facing job loss. What about sick kids, the young mom who lost her husband, or just a pile of un-ending laundry? How can anyone give thanks for that? But, the longer I ponder this book, written by Eleanor H. Porter, 101 years ago, I find it refreshing and endearing. This innocent little girl isn’t trying to change all the bad things into good, she’s convincing others to see the difficulties differently.
As Christians, our lives are to be a refining process. Negative experiences can be used to give God glory and honor. I have a feeling this is the key to why the majority of the world finds it so easy to skip Thanksgiving and go straight to the presents. Thankfulness in all things is hard. It might just be the hardest thing ever. But it’s clear that God challenges us to do it over and over again in scripture. The thanks we give is an expression of our submission to God’s plan for us.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Let’s not be in a hurry. This November, when you are having a not-so-thankful moment, feeling the pressure to want more, and perhaps to speed up the days until Christmas, I challenge you to do two things. First, ponder this quote from Ann Voskamp:
“Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing…. Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.”
And second, think of Pollyanna, shiny curls bouncing on her shoulders. And be glad. Just focus on one of the million things God has given you to be glad about, and say it, meditate on it, write it, or sing it out.
This month, I’ll see the rush and hear the jingle bells. But I’m not going to get caught up in it just yet. I’ll just smile and remember to be thankful for each season as it comes, the good and the bad alike. I don’t want to miss a moment. I don’t want to squander an opportunity to give my Savior thanks for all He’s done. I want to let Him know that His plan is good enough for me, no matter what comes. I’m praying that the spirit of Thanksgiving stays with you this November and all the year. Let’s thank Him in all things. Don’t hurry this fall. I’m asking you to slow it down. Stop and savor. Give God the thanks He deserves. No matter the circumstances. He waits on you, there’s time.
“That my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30:12
Writing in answer to God’s call,