I found it a bit amusing.
And a bit confusing too.
A news anchor was asking the father of one of the UCLA basketball players arrested in China for shoplifting why he wouldn’t thank President Trump.
The President had apparently intervened to get the three young athletes released. True to his nature, the president expected public credit and thanks for doing this.
The father stubbornly refused to thank the president.
Trump fumed and said he should have left the kids in jail in China.
This high profile argument over gratitude – or the lack of it – was timely.
This Thursday we all shift gears.
At least for a day.
We will gather with our families in our homes and partake of this American ritual called Thanksgiving. It’s a secular holiday of sorts – made more so by the frenzied material pursuits of the following day – Black Friday.
Thanksgiving was proclaimed officially a national holiday by a president quite different from Donald Trump. Abraham Lincoln, who wasn’t the type to seek, expect or demand gratitude for himself, recognized the importance of thanking God for his blessings and his hand of protection upon the United States.
It was the pivotal Northern victory at Gettysburg during the Civil War that prompted Lincoln to issue his proclamation in November, 1863.
Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson and his successors did not believe it appropriate for the government to be officially encouraging any expressions of gratitude to a higher power, for fear of violating the separation of church and state.
Lincoln disagreed. He was too convinced of the mysterious reality of Divine Providence not to want the country to somehow acknowledge it. He subscribed to a giving God. Faith was, for Lincoln, a reliance of hope.
We turn on this day – as we should every day – from our needs and wants to the blessings we’ve been given. We take time to count those. It’s a holiday for reflection. Thanksgiving is a time set aside to encourage renewed perspective.
In this, it is the country’s most shared spiritual holiday – uniting us for a time beyond sectarian and political beliefs and our deep differences – to embrace thanks as a healthy attitude of the soul.
In his Lamentations for Israel, the prophet Jeremiah reached toward a fresh perspective on God and his grace. In the midst of declaring God’s anger over the nation’s sins, Jeremiah praised God’s faithfulness, even in Israel’s darkest night.
“ It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3: 22-23).
In God’s unfailing mercy and compassion the prophet would place his undying hope. Even surrounded by the rebellion of apostacy and it’s tragic consequences, Jeremiah would still look up.
He would find cause for gratitude toward a gracious God.
“O Lord,” cries the weeping prophet, “Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; Thou hast redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:58).
Redemption in the midst of sorrow.
Like a garden, a thankful spirit should be carefully and faithfully cultivated in our hearts, in our minds and in how we live and how we see life.
We must seek it as a habit.
Gratitude can revolutionize our lives. It can lift us from a valley of despondency to sunlit hills of hope. It can help us see through the gray fog of our current circumstance and find a clearer and truer view.
Giving thanks can transform negative, critical and self-obsessed attitudes into positive, patient and generous spirits. It can turn despair into hope.
This has been a season of trials and heartbreak for the American nation. Many of our fellow citizens have endured natural disasters. Others have been the victims of violence and hate.
Perhaps in your own life, this has been a time of challenge and disappointment – perhaps perplexity.
Thanksgiving is a great time to take stock.
“We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble,” observed Charles Spurgeon, “and to write our blessings in sand.”
Yes, God pleads the causes of our soul. What are those?
Our salvation, so rich and free. That he chose us and pursued us with his mighty love, captured us by his grace and preserves us by the power of his word.
Our faith, that we may come boldly to the throne of a gracious and omnipotent God, know that he loves us supremely and gives us his grace, comfort and strength in the hour of our greatest need.
Our families and friends, who bless us, enrich us, make us important, give us joy, and who encourage and comfort us when we need that human touch.
Our freedom. How blessed we are to live in this great land. And to know when we gather Thursday, that thousands of men and women will be separated from their own families this holiday season, stationed around the world, protecting us from harm.
You and I have 10,000 reasons to be thankful.
In the summary of his poem Ulysses, Tennyson wrote “Though much is taken, much abides.”
Life is not for most an unbroken string of spectacular blessings and blue – sky ascents.
We lose, we gain. We laugh and we cry.
Yet, for all that is past, we may say thanks.
For all that is to come, yes.