“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” Psalm 145:15-16 ESV
Thanksgiving was never one of my favorite holidays. Sure, turkey tastes great, and it’s always good to see family, but for many years, this Day of Mandatory Gratitude felt to me like an occasion created by Hallmark to sell cards and keepsakes.
But here’s the thing—Thanksgiving is most decidedly not a Hallmark holiday. And in today’s world, which can be so filled with entitlement, selfishness, and greed, any kind of focus we can put on gratitude is not only helpful but also necessary.
As Christians, we know we’re supposed to be grateful every day, and I suspect that’s why for me the holiday got a little confusing. Merely one day of giving thanks seemed an odd message when it’s such a huge aspect of our faith walk.
This year, my mind is tugging to the past. In grade school, many of us were taught that Thanksgiving is a time to honor the friendship between the Native Americans and the pilgrims from England who learned how to get along despite their differences.
But I admit don’t often think about how hard it must have been for these pilgrims. They had been persecuted in their homeland. They came here for a new way of life and for religious freedom, and when they got here, things were so much worse than they’d ever expected. First, there were people already living here who were not terribly happy about newcomers infringing on their land and eating up their already-limited food supply.
Second, America was a whole different place with entirely different kinds of food and methods of farming. While many things were certainly similar, a lot of things were utterly foreign. People begin to die—at one point, one group of pilgrims had lost nearly half its original number.
I wonder if they were questioning God at this point: “Why are we even here? Did you really call us here, or were we mistaken?” As they lost wives, husbands, daughters and sons, as crops failed and sickness began to spread, I can only imagine the despair snaking through them.
And then came a miracle: an unexpected fellowship with the very people whose land they had invaded. An unexpected sharing of resources.
It must have felt staggering!
Thanksgiving sometimes gets lumped in with Black Friday shopping, or serves as the official “kickoff to Christmas,” sometimes even the day you have to get through before you can appropriately start putting up Christmas decorations. For some, it’s merely one last autumn hurrah, a chance to indulge in pumpkin spice lattes and wear chunky burnt-orange sweaters before breaking out the green and red.
For me this year, what has helped underscore the meaning of Thanksgiving is putting my mind in kinship with the pilgrims, a people who felt so much despair, yet found unexpected blessings in a place and from a people they never could have imagined. The circumstances are different, but really, they’re a lot like you and me, aren’t they?
It reminds me of the story of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus (14:1-31) wandering through the desert only to get to the Red Sea, falling on their knees and wailing in agony because they knew they would either get slaughtered by their enemies or carted back to Egypt to live the rest of their lives as slaves.
Then God showed up, parted the Red Sea, and brought them through to a new tomorrow.
Imagine the gratitude they must have felt! Imagine also the gratitude these pilgrims must have felt that first Thanksgiving, remembering how bad it had been and being beyond grateful for the providence God had exhibited through others.
We humans sometimes think we have all the answers. We think we’re in control. We appreciate the things we know we couldn’t possibly have created, such as our bodies, the people we love, the sunrise and the sunset. But let’s face it—sometimes we think the things we have are things we “earned” and somehow “deserve.” We work hard, so “our money belongs to us and we can do with it what we like.” We forget it’s not ours at all—it’s God’s money, and we are just His managers. Or we diet and exercise, then mistakenly believe our good health is something we made possible, instead of a blessing from the Lord.
Other times, we become jaded because we are so accustomed to having a roof over our heads that we forget about our brothers and sisters who don’t have clean water or shelter. Or we whine when our cell phones malfunction or don’t give us what we want as fast as we’d like, instead of marveling at the fact that God gifted someone with the wisdom to create such a technology and cultivate a nation with such a system of wealth and ability that regular ordinary people can go to stores, purchase these devices, and then have it all at their fingertips.
If you’re having trouble feeling grateful or tuning out the busy aspects of this time of year to focus on the true meaning of Thanksgiving, I urge you to take a moment and put yourself in the brain space of the first people who came to this nation and what they must’ve been going through. Or put yourself in the sandals of the Israelites, standing at the shore of the Red Sea, distraught over what would come next.
God provides. Always. We don’t deserve it, but He loves us anyway.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.