You see, earlier this week, I answered a query in the clergy Facebook group that I am a member of. Someone was looking for a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. I responded that it had been a while since I had stopped racking my brain over trying to be ever more innovative for Thanksgiving services. After all, what could I possible say about being thankful that hasn’t been said before?
So, I said, I was intending to do what I have done for several years – which is to sincerely wish people a happy Thanksgiving and carry on with a “normal” service. You could say that I was headed for a “not Thanksgiving” Thanksgiving service.
And then something happened that changed my mind – not my opinion – but my mind; in the sense that my mind has processed things differently. Now I intend to offer a “not” “not Thanksgiving message”.
I know that you’re never supposed to use a double-negative. But I did it on purpose because I wonder if we don’t often go into being thankful somewhat backwards. What do I mean by that?
It’s been my experience that gratitude can be misunderstood or even watered down. Sometimes we use it to chastise others, as in “why are you complaining when you have so much to be thankful for?” Other times, we use it to try to downplay the hardship others are feeling like, “there, there, just look around you and be thankful. I am sure you’ll feel better soon.” And, I have had people in pastoral care not even want entertain gratitude because it evokes a perverse sense of weakness, as in “if I need to feel thankful, then obviously something must be wrong in my life.”
Can you relate? Maybe you can think of other examples.
All in all, I think Thanksgiving means more than just being mindful of being grateful, like it’s one more chore on the list. It’s about having grateful minds. Because a grateful mind will eventually give rise to a grateful spirit. Now I know that’s been said many times before, but as I think about what happened, I am less worried about that now. I’m not going to enter Thanksgiving backwards.
So what happened to change my mind? It’s so simple really. Everything this week seems to have been about family.
It started with the article that was published in the Observer this week on gratitude written by a fine writer that I admire for many reasons. (Shameless plug – you should check in out.) It got me thinking before I knew I was thinking. Then my children called me up to say they wanted to come visit. Then my brother called right after saying the same. This weekend, my new extended family is having Thanksgiving on Saturday so we can attend. My step children are excited that everybody is going to be together. I am somewhat speechless and a little weepy at this thought.
(There’s a whole other message about why church family is so important in a world of so many lonely people – but that’s for another time)
All of this is new to me. There’s a long story behind that, but suffice it to say that when you grow up in family whose ancestors have known poverty and violence because of war, a sense of family can take a serious hit. It can cause you to never pause long enough to have a grateful mind because the spirit of your family is not at rest. You learn to be very appreciative of what you have, but you don’t enjoy it in the same manner. In a funny way, you can look at yourself backwards, thinking that only others deserve the right to feel truly grateful. It’s bizarre but I have seen over and over.
And now I think about how powerful gratitude really is. Gratitude is a powerful force of positive change that should never be downplayed or watered down. I have seen its power as I have sat with people plucking up the courage to be thankful, not to run from their troubles to but to actually face them. I think about one woman who had the most terrible of childhoods tell her faith community that she had finally come to a place that she literally counted her blessings every morning – for no other reason than to simply stay in that grateful place. She had been unable to work for a long time. Praise God, she was now holding down three small part time jobs.
The moral of the story – for me at least? If we want to call ourselves a faithful people, we really can’t afford “not thanksgiving” thanksgiving messages….and I will likely never go back there again. We don’t have the luxury. Yes, there is a cost to facing life’s challenges. There is a greater cost to pretending like they aren’t there. It’s gratitude that allows us to move forward. It’s gratitude that makes the pain of hardship shorter lived.
I don’t mean to be trite. Ask anyone who has come back from the spiritual brink of hardship and that’s what they’ll say. These are people who have found the grace enter the grace of thanksgiving, not backwards, but straight on with their eyes wide open. I changed my mind about Thanksgiving. Thank you for reading this. I hope it made sense.
Happy Thanksgiving. May you be blessed by God’s grace.
Rev. Eric Lukacs