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I remember when I was still a pre-teen, I used to get into fights with my older brother. And, of course, I had good parents who, being the good parents they were, would always make my brother say he was sorry when he did something mean to me. In a way, I guess you could say that was part of his “punishment.” He had to apologize. Sometimes we both had to apologize to each to each other at the same time in order to not get in trouble. We would tell each other we were sorry and, as if that wasn’t punishment enough (we weren’t really sorry), we would be forced to hug each other! For two kids who had been fighting all day and felt not an ounce of remorse for what we had done to each other, that was certainly an awkward moment. There we were, saying what we didn’t mean and acting like we meant it (by giving each other a superficial, awkward feeling hug).
What does this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well ….
Thanksgiving = the giving of thanks. Giving of thanks to who you ask? Who else could we thank for having family, friends, and lots of food (and so many other things above and beyond what we need)? It would have to be God. Who else would it make sense to thank? No single person, not even both of my parents combined, are the sole source of all that is precious to me in my life. I could only thank them for certain things. But with one swift bow of my head, I can thank God for everything, knowing that if it wasn’t for his creative hand, I would not exist, much less have all the things I enjoy about life. It just happens to be that I live in the most free (as far as I can tell) and richest nation in the world, and grew up in a middle class family (i.e. not “poor”). If I was born, say, in northern China, I would probably not have been exposed to Christianity in the way I was here: maybe I would be a atheist.
So … what does this have to do with the story about me and my brother? Well …
Giving thanks with your lips is one thing. Giving thanks from your heart is another. Just like you can say “I’m sorry” and not mean it, or hug someone even while you are hating their guts, so you can “give thanks” on Thanksgiving, and not really mean it. You can go through all the motions with your family and still not feel very thankful. Giving thanks to God without actually being grateful is something like telling your brother you are sorry for calling him a @#$*%, then as soon as you are out of the sight of your parents, calling him a @#$*% all over again and laughing about it. When we are young, we give apologies when we don’t really feel sorry because it’s expected of us from our parents. When we get older, we can give thanks when we don’t really feel very thankful (if at all) because it’s expected of us from our culture.
This Thanksgiving, I hope you don’t find that the corporate prayer moment where your family pauses to pray to God before the meal as the “awkward moment” of the holidays when everybody goes through the motions of thanking God even though they don’t really feel very thankful. Thanksgiving, without a focus on God, is likely to have only a miniscule chance of engendering a heightened sense of gratitude in our hearts for all we have. How thankful a person is always can be seen best in his or her actions. Are we thankful for our life? Then let’s not do things that destroy it. Are we thankful for our salvation? Then lets not do things that hinder our walk with Christ. Are we thankful for our religious freedom? Then let’s make the most of it for Christ and reach out to those who need the love of God. Are we thankful for the abundance of food we have? Then let’s not become gluttons and overeat. Are we thankful for our wives and/or husbands? Then lets treat our spouses with more patience and forgiveness. Are we thankful for God’s grace? Then let’s show lots of grace to others.