The Unnatural Nature of Thanksgiving

At the time when the fates delegated the Thanksgiving blog to me, I wasn’t in a very thankful state of mind. That’s how I ended up writing this blog during a MRI. Of course, I wasn’t actually typing it out, because giant magnets and computers go together about as well as red wine and wedding dresses, but I had a whole lot of time to get my thoughts together.

Imagine going to a dubstep concert where the DJ has no idea what he’s doing. Now imagine that you’re attending that concert inside of a coffin. There is an IV dangling from your arm, and if you move, you have to start the whole experience over again. To top it off, suppose that you have a hatred of needles (due to a bad incident involving a venomous spider and a Daffy Duck shaped hole punch) and no one warned you about the intrusive IV. Now you’ve got a pretty good idea of where I was at.

Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally. If you don’t believe me, check out the first few chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve didn’t verbally express their thanks to Creator God, and their actions certainly didn’t reflect any kind of thanksgiving.  A thankful heart comes only by choice. It’s wrapped up in our free will. There is always something to be thankful for, assuming you’re willing to acknowledge it. But I’ll warn you—it’s much easier to find all the things you’re not so thankful for.

That’s exactly what I did during the first half of my MRI. In order to distract myself from my misery, I started making a list of all the things I would rather do than be in my present situation: park in the freshman lot for the rest of my DBU career, only be allowed to listen to country music for the rest of my life, and other terrible things like that. Not surprisingly, my mood didn’t improve much, and the minutes until my scan was over didn’t tick by any faster. I wanted to feel the peace and joy that comes with a thankful heart, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to actually be grateful.

But with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, I figured I might as well swallow my self-pity and find some things to thank God for. I started with the easy stuff.

“Thank you God for not letting me pass out when they put that stupid needle in my arm.”

“Thank you for parents who love me and pay for my medical bills instead of making me take a second job at Taco Bell.”

But as I progressed, it became easier and easier for me to lay claim to my bountiful blessings.

“Thank you for giving me a little brother who is bright, funny, and a joy to watch grow up.”

“Thank you for bringing me to a university that puts your glory above everything else.”

“Thank you for my sweet boyfriend waiting for me in the lobby.”

“Thank you for a job that allows me to minister through my talents.”

I thanked the Lord for everything from cute nail polish to the gift of salvation. My situation didn’t change a bit, but I was no longer drowning in self-pity and negativity. The idea that thankfulness can transform the outlook of a grim situation is not a feel-good lie from the big wigs of Christianity; it works.

Everybody likes to pretend like they actually use the Thanksgiving holiday to count their blessings. But if we’re honest, other than saying grace at the family meal, few of us take the time to list the scores of people and things we are thankful for because gratitude is not voluntary. Thankfulness won’t come to you on its own; you must intentionally go out and get it.  Whether this holiday season is the best you’ve ever had or the worst you can possibly imagine, I urge you to find the positives in your life and thank the One who gave them to you.

If you find it difficult to get started, don’t sweat it. You’re going up against your natural tendency toward ingratitude. Thanklessness is natural; thankfulness is hard.  Push on anyway. I promise you’ll thank me later.

Written by Savanna

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Remember the Pilgrims!

When I think of Thanksgiving, I get really excited. Ridiculously excited, one could say. Autumn is without a doubt my favorite season of the year, and it only gets better when a holiday is thrown into the middle of it.

Of course, the Pilgrims did not have the same kind of holiday that we do today. They did not travel for hours on an airplane to visit family, nor were they likely to have pumpkin pie. This is a sad truth, I know. But in order to fully appreciate such a special day, we must look at its historical context. How did we get our modern day of thanks from such a humble beginning?

The most obviously wonderful thing about Thanksgiving is probably the sheer abundance of food. I wish I could invite everyone in the world to my family’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, because my mother’s classic turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie is delightfully scrumptious! Yet food, although it is essential to any family reunion, does not create a holiday all by itself.

The Pilgrims were simply celebrating the fact that they had food at all. When was the last time you were actively grateful for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you eat between classes every Tuesday and Thursday? When was the last time you stood in front of a full pantry and thanked God for it instead of moaning about how “nothing sounds good”?

Many Americans use the week of Thanksgiving to take a break from school or work and travel long distances to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, or that crazy cousin who only shows up for the food. In most cases, this is a time to catch up on the latest news and laugh together, enjoying each others’ company.

Unfortunately, the Pilgrims did not have that either. Half of their small number had died in the previous months, and going back home just to see their loved ones was nigh impossible. Yet they still celebrated, because while they were few, they were alive. When was the last time you were thankful to open your eyes in the morning and greet your bleary-eyed roommate?

Even the holiday’s position as a sort of bridge to Christmas seems rather unfounded. Were the Pilgrims eagerly awaiting the day’s end so they could start playing winter carols and making wish lists? Far from it, most likely; I would imagine that the day after the first Thanksgiving feast was just like any other day, filled with tending to the fields and doing laundry. The continued absence of Santa Claus reigned.

If not Christmas, then, what did the Pilgrims have to live for? Another year of hardships and trials? Not at all. They looked forward to the future, as well. They could be grateful because they were assured of God’s providence and strength as they moved forward. They could thank Him for every extra breath they took, for the food they finally had to eat, and for the gift of His Son, who assured them that their loved ones who hadn’t survived were in a better place.

What would happen if Americans today prioritized our lives like this, even just for one day? What if we stepped off the whirlwind that has become our lives and remembered God’s blessings of breath and life, His omnipresence, and his loving control over every situation we face? What if we thanked Him for the people we see every day as well as for our far-away friends and family? I think we would come to adore Him and the whole of His creation and majesty all the more.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well…  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be – Psalm 139:14, 16 (New International Version)

Written by Catherine