Thanksgiving was going on long before it became a recognized national holiday in 1863. Prior to Lincoln’s national call to thanks, the day was celebrated by many of the states in the union, at different times. However, in the height of the civil war when our nation was being torn asunder, President Lincoln’s Secretary of State thought it would be a good idea to ironically get everyone on the same page in the midst of such divisiveness. Lincoln agreed.
Expressing his hopes for the last Thursday of November, Abraham Lincoln decreed that this was to be a day, “Commended to God’s care to give thanks to our beneficent Father” (Doris Kearns Godwin, Team of Rivals). Thanksgiving, in other words, had distinctively Christian roots.
One cannot read the Scriptures without concluding that gratitude is to be the insignia of the Christ follower. We are told to bless the Lord at all times, and to pray without ceasing. God is to be the focal point of our lives no matter what season we are in. Indeed we are to give thanks continually, but why?
Our hearts are bent on self glory. We are ruthlessly committed to “me”. C.S. Lewis points to this in a moving passage in his classic, Mere Christianity, where he argues that the fountainhead to all vice is pride. Left to ourselves we will revel, well, in ourselves. And here is where a life of gratitude is so important. To constantly say thanks- to the waiter who refills our cup, to the man who pays the compliment, to the woman who opens the door, to the valet who parks the car, the parent who fixes yet another meal- is to go to war with the weeds of entitlement that constantly need tending to.
Years ago an old preacher told me to write a thank you note whenever I had finished preaching for someone. I thought his advice odd, until I began the practice. There have been more than enough occasions when sitting at my desk some Monday morning, writing a thank you note, that my pride has been insulted. For in that little offering of thanks to the events host, I have acknowledged their graciousness in affording me the opportunity. It was not just the gifts that got me there, but their kindness.
So on this day when we will sit around the table with family and friends, if it seems like an antiquated practice to name the “three things you’re most thankful for this year,” it’s your pride talking. Saying thank you to God for the sunshine and the rain, the promotion and the pink slip, is to wage war with the enemies of entitlement and arrogance.
May today only be the beginning of the daily practice of thanksgiving.