During the season of thanksgiving we will give thanks for things that have always been and things that have never been; we’ll give thanks for the past and the future; we’ll give thanks to God, who is always showering upon us reasons to be thankful: dinner at a new restaurant, seeing old friends, a niece’s wedding, and even getting my coats and winter clothes out of the closet. I have given thanks for each of these things in recent days, and each has been something new – a change from an earlier condition or a recent addition to the world at large.
Now, I don’t know about you, but for me giving thanks for new things or for things that have recently changed takes up most of gratitude time. The new things jump out at us. They vie for our attention. The things that have always been there remain in the background, quietly making our lives comfortable or joyful or meaningful. Because the things that have always been don’t call attention to themselves, we fail to give thanks to God for them as often as we should.
During this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you to think of something that you can’t remember doing without: it can be as basic as breath or your dog’s earnest affection. It can be the simple fact that you’ve always had clean clothes in your drawers or a hot meal on the table. Think of something you’ve never given thanks for because it has silently endured throughout your life, never calling attention to itself and never failing to make your life better. Give thanks to God for this something-that-has-always-been.
Now take a look at the opposite – thanking God for things that have never been. This type of gratitude is possibly even more difficult than the previous kind because it involves stepping into other people’s shoes in order to appreciate your gifts and blessings. When we stand in another’s shoes, we gain the capacity for perspective. Sometimes, it’s difficult to see things when you’re right up close to them and seeing them from the same angle you always do. To give thanks for something you’ve never had, you might need to view your life from that other perspective. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because diseases that have affected people all over the world for hundreds of years won’t affect you because you were inoculated as a baby. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because you’ve never known a time when your stomach was so empty for so long that you forgot how to be hungry. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because every time you slept outside in your life, you did so because you chose to – and you always had s’mores as the campfire died down.
I ask you to think of something you’ve never experienced, something you don’t want to experience because it is unhealthy or degrading or worse. Now thank God that this thing has never happened to you. But don’t stop there. Recognize that the thing-that-has-never-been always is happening somewhere in the world – maybe next door, or a few blocks away, or across an ocean. How can you help make that thing change from an always is to a never again? Sometimes, blessings are hidden within moments of our past that sure didn’t seem like blessings at the time. When we were living through those times, we never expected to give thanks for them one day. But what we forget is that God doesn’t comprehend our lives in the limited linear fashion that we do. God, I think, comprehends our lives as a whole – not as a series of events. We view our lives as though flipping through the pages of a magazine, one to the next. God sees our lives as collages, in which all the pages are pasted together.
I now invite you to give thanks for something in your past that didn’t seem like a cause for gratitude at the time. Reflect on how this event fits into the overarching narrative of your life. What did you learn from it? How did God support you as you went through it? What do you know now that God knew then?
When we take the long view of events in our pasts, we find the ability to thank God for difficult and challenging times that have led our lives in directions we never imagined. This sort of gratitude accomplishes more than simple thanks to God. By acknowledging that we have no idea how our lives are going to turn out, we practice humility in the face of the expansive unknown that we benignly call “future.”
Give thanks for the future. I invite you to give thanks for the vast expanse of possibility the future holds. This sort of thanksgiving is the birthplace of hope – which is the willing expectation that the boundaries of possibility are far wider than we perceive. So give thanks to God for possibility, for newness, for adventure. And then take a step with God into the untamed wilderness that is tomorrow, knowing all the while that God has already explored this jungle and will lead you through.
The next time you go to the table at your church to celebrate the Great Thanksgiving – better known by its Greek name “Eucharist” – I invite you to hold onto these things for which you have given thanks. As you receive the presence of Christ in the bread and wine, offer your thanksgivings back to God. And in the exchange, know that God is always and forever giving thanks for you.
Peace, Love and Happiness:
Peace, Love and Happiness: