Voices > Soul Food

Thanksgiving leftovers

Properly understood, our thankfulness would never grow cold

Issue: "Global Warming," Nov. 29, 1997

It was the day after Thanksgiving in 1978, and my eight-year-old daughter wrote:

To day I forgot to brush my hair and my watch almost broke. My brother goes around the house screaming and bothering me. I can't not take any more. I almost feel like running away, but I can't because I simple have no place to go. Darin is a pain at school. Mr. O'Neil picks Vern all the time. It has been a bad day. I'm glad nothing will be rong in heaven!

Having a national holiday to honor giving thanks is no guarantee that gratefulness will stick with us any longer than turkey and stuffing. Growing up doesn't necessarily modify complaining about life either. Here's a list of my recent grievances:

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November 1997. Last week I forgot a dentist appointment. They were very annoyed. I knew they might hurt me if I went back. While cleaning house, I vacuumed up the steps. I lost control of the cleaner. It fell to the bottom, blew up, and spewed dust into the whole house. I was in a hurry to grate orange peel and carelessly grated my knuckles. Someone told me I alienated people because I am a perfectionist. I don't like starlings; they pick on the little birds at my feeder. It's a bad life. I'm glad nothing will be wrong in heaven.

Surely, I am thankful that one day (as Julian of Norwich said in the 12th century) "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." This is a wonderful comfort when facing true affliction. The difficulty we have as Christians is that although we are to give thanks constantly, we seem unable to do it. Colossians 2:7 reminds us that we are to "be strengthened in the faith and overflowing with thankfulness." To be painfully exact, the last time I "overflowed with thankfulness" was when I landed safely in Minneapolis after a trip. And that was only because I have a phobia of flying.

Most Christians practice a daily ritual of thankfulness as we bow our heads to "give thanks" at every meal. But it is easy for a mechanical routine to creep in that doesn't resemble thankfulness at all. Perhaps our tendency to slip on these meaningless rituals is why Scripture so often exhorts us to thankfulness-to a recounting of the goodness and grace of God in our lives.

The Puritan writer, John Flavel, points out in his book The Mystery of Providence that "Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them." It is our duty to meditate upon these works "at all times, but especially in times of difficulty and trouble." By "observation" Flavel means to specifically record the works, care, and mercies God has shown us. We need to look at life carefully. Think about God's care. Write down the evidence. I am amazed by my own ability to forget so quickly. I can never count on my memory when I most need to consider the faithfulness of the Lord. I must record the work of God or it is gone forever.

It is this process of considering the providence of God in our lives that can lead us directly to thankfulness of heart and praise to God. Not a day in my life passes that I don't have many things for which to be thankful. I can begin with an examination of my heart and immediately say with praise, "It is because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed" (Lamentations 3:22). I can thank him for good things-the wonder of a warm safe bed at night when so much of the world has none. I can thank him even for small difficulties-I hated that old vacuum; it was a good excuse to get a new one that worked.

matthew henry's prayer of thanks on the night he was robbed is wryly instructive:

I thank Thee,

First, because I was never robbed before;

Second, because altho' they took my belongings, they did not take my life; Third, altho' they took everything I had, it was not much;

And fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed!

I must constantly tend my attitude. I do not want to be a "happy, happy" Christian who mindlessly babbles praise on every occasion. On the other hand, how can I dare to be silent or cynical when I ought to honor God with a quiet abiding joy, and an expression of thankfulness through all the months of all my years?

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