“… the entrance into His gates with thanksgiving & into His courts with praise means an instant leaving all darkness & oppression outside…” Diary 5 February 1919
I love Thanksgiving Day. Of the many holidays that circle the calendar year, it is specific in intent (giving thanks) and focused in celebration (gathering round the table, with friends and loved ones, to partake a bountiful feast). Rooted in American history, it is textured with traditions – community, church, family – each contributing their own particular rites and practices through the centuries.
Many of our present family traditions began in my childhood: the singing of a silly song (“The turkey ran away, before Thanksgiving Day, if I stay home they’ll make a roast out of me…”)… the menu, unvarying in its many courses (turkey and stuffing with its accompaniments of creamed onions, sweet and mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry salad, pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream and slivered walnuts)… the final collapse – stuffed, ourselves, and exhausted. There is, always, an expression of gratitude – “I’m thankful for…” – sometimes visually enhanced by children’s colorful paper “praise-feathers” on a pine cone turkey.
I can’t recall any specific teaching about gratitude in Lilias’s writing but her diaries and journals are virtual paeans of praise. Words of gratitude, prayers of thanksgiving are a golden thread woven through her faithful records, a shining testament to God’s abiding presence in challenging ministry, in difficult places. She sings her praise upon her first sighting of lights in the Algiers harbor. Prayers of gratitude and dedication accompany the opening of each and every habitat – apartment, Casbah, El Biar – and each ministry outpost along the coast of Algeria, then deeper into the desert. Each new person, whom God brought into their lives was “rejoiced over” – and, to the very end of her life, she continually expressed gratitude that God had brought her to a land of such beauty, exalting in flowers, plants, mountains, desert, sky.
It is good to set aside one day a year for giving thanks and, for that matter, one day a week as a church family to sing praise to God. But it is even better to give thanks and sing praise each and every day that God gives us breath. “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough,” writes Meister Eckhart, underscoring the reality that every blessing, without count, comes from something – Someone – without whom we would have or be nothing.
Something good happens to us when we give thanks to God. It provides a proper sense of proportion. Implicitly, gratitude acknowledges that we are recipients of God’s generosity: “Every good gift is from above…” (James 1:17)
Praise offers a broader life perspective as we refocus from what we don’t have but want, do have but don’t want, to what we do have and need. My nightly phone calls to my aging mother gave her the opportunity to discuss very real difficulties and loss. We began a practice of singing, over the wires that connected us, a chipper little chorus, “Count Your Blessings Name Them One by One.” Then we did. One by one, taking turns. Invariably, Mother would remark (with a much brighter tone) “Isn’t it amazing what a difference it makes when we count our blessings?”
There have been studies on “gratitude” indicating its benefits to both mental and physical well-being. One study reveals that gratitude elicits relational benefits: gratitude expressed evokes gratitude in return!
Benefits, not withstanding, it should be enough that scripture commands us to praise: “Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord.” (Psalms 150:6b) Has anyone counted the commands to praise in the Psalms? In the Bible?!
This week, leading up to Thanksgiving Day we will have countless reminders to give thanks. We will be given opportunity – state and church alike – to pause to praise. Let us continue, after the last bit of turkey is swallowed and table fellowship is a memory, to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. Let us be intentional in expressing our gratitude, daily, to someone for whom we are thankful – for something – be it in spoken word, letter, email, flower. And, let us perpetually turn our hearts to God, praying with George Herbert of old:
“Thou that hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart…
Not thankfull, when it pleaseth me,
As if thy blessings had spare dayes,
But such a heart whose pulse may be
Painting: Pocket Sketchbook (undated)