Today is our last day of school this week, as we break for what Abraham Lincoln (and George Washington before him) proclaimed as a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863. While we gladly join the rest of our country in observing the holiday on Thursday, our reasons for doing so are not particularly ones of patriotism or politeness (though they are not not those things, either); as Christians, we observe Thanksgiving for the purpose of worshiping God, for we cannot be thankful for something without offering thanks to Someone.
G.K. Chesterton wrote that, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” This is wisdom we would do well to heed, for as the Internet meme goes, “Only in America do people trample others for Black Friday sales exactly one day after being thankful for everything we have.”
But I digress.
When I think of giving thanks, four varieties come to mind:
1) Token thankfulness, wherein we choose if we will be thankful (or not). The postmodern philosopher Bart Simpson once prayed, “Dear God we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” Here, we feel no obligation to be thankful, so we only go through the motions for the purpose of making the point.
2) Courteous thankfulness, wherein we choose to be thankful (even when we’re not). I think of writing the obligatory thank you note for that fruitcake received at Christmas; no one’s ever glad to receive a fruitcake, but if we’ve been raised with manners, we’ll do our best to muster up gratitude because, well, that’s what courteous people do.
3) Relative thankfulness, wherein we choose why we will be thankful (but always on our terms). This is where we rank what qualifies in our minds as being thank-worthy (usually the good stuff) and jettison anything not matching our particular desire for it (usually the tough stuff). God is good, but only when he’s good to us.
4) Desperate thankfulness, wherein we cannot choose to be anything but thankful (always). The response of the grateful leper in Luke 17:11-19 is an example of such desperation. Luke records that, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” Jesus had not only restored his body; he had also restored his life, as the man was now able to return to his family and re-enter society. He had nothing to offer Jesus except his thanks, he was so desperate.
As we think about our students, our classical Christian teaching calls us and them to cultivate the gift of gratitude in all we do. St. Ambrose said that, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” St. Augustine wrote that the Christian life was to be “a hallelujah from head to toe, the praise of God saturating our lives.”
Finally, King David filled the Psalms – the Church’s ancient hymnbook – with calls for desperate thankfulness instead of any other token, courteous, or relative versions. His simple and direct admonition: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1).
Thus and so may we give thanks – maybe even desperately – on Thursday, but also by God’s grace, always.
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28
(Pictures are from yesterday’s K4,Kindergarten, and 1st grade annual Thanksgiving Feast.)