Reclaiming Thankfulness | Sojourners

Reclaiming Thankfulness

The day after Halloween, a grocery store in my neighborhood moved the bats and goblins to clearance tables and began stocking the shelves with Christmas items. Carols were playing on the radio. Holiday commercials started appearing on television.

We’ve done it again. We’ve skipped over the thank-you part.

It’s telling that we fast-forward past the one day set aside to give thanks. Our consumer-driven mentality no longer values Thanksgiving — it’s treated as the first official day of the Christmas shopping season.

And truthfully, our Americanized version of religion doesn’t appreciate thankfulness anymore, either. We live by notions that make it obsolete.

We tell ourselves that we deserve everything we have. We exchange the gospel of grace for self-reliance.

When everything becomes a transaction, there’s no reason for thankfulness. We’re merely getting what’s coming to us. I’ve held up my end of the bargain; now give me what I deserve.

We go to great lengths to avoid thinking of ourselves as a divine charity case even though that’s what we are. Perhaps that’s why many of our thanksgiving prayers sound much like the Pharisee in the gospel of Luke, the one who said thank you that he was not like those other people.

We say thank you that I have a roof over my head, a good job and a wonderful meal – unlike the many others who do not. Thank you that I am not one of those people living on the margin of society — how horrible that must be.

That’s not the spirit of thankfulness. 

Genuine gratitude brings us humility and reconnects us with God and each other — especially those who need us in some way. It erases our society’s illusions about winners and losers. It directly challenges our judgments about who is deserving and who is undeserving. It reminds us of our total dependence on God for everything.

It brings us back to the central truth that every breath and every heartbeat is a gift freely given to each of us with no merit involved whatsoever. And everything is meant to be shared in the same spirit of gratitude and love.

Thankfulness reduces our reward-and-punishment notions to noise and nonsense. Thankfulness opens our hearts and our clasped hands to receive and to give more freely. It erases all those lines we draw between ourselves and others.

It leads us to be more in spirit like the person begging on the street corner than the one eating the lavish meal in the fine house.

If we were more grateful, we wouldn’t be so divided. Our squabbling would yield to a shared appreciation. Judgment would give way to embrace. Fear and anger would be replaced by love and joy.

We’d be less like the older child in the famous parable, the judgmental one who stands with crossed arms, refusing to join the party. He’s not thankful for the parent’s love; he’s only interested in trying to ration it. Like the prodigal brother, he lacks a grateful heart.

So let’s reclaim thankfulness amid the bombardment of holiday sales, carols, and commercials. Let’s say thank you for the life God gives us, the people God send us, the healing God offers us, the love God lavishes on all of us in ways that are so overly generous and totally scandalous by our standards.

May gratitude soften our hearts and open our hands. May we live in a thankful spirit that brings life, love, healing, and hope into the world. May we say thanks by giving in overly generous and totally scandalous ways.

Let that be our thank you.

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