My, how things have changed! Today’s Thanksgiving is too often a rush to get dinner cooked, eaten, and off the table before 6:00 p.m. when Walmart opens its doors. Guests are in a rush to leave early so they can get some sleep before waking up at the crack of dawn to stand in a line for a big Black Friday deal.
If we’re not careful, the spirit of Thanksgiving is going to be a thing of the past.
But we don’t have to let that happen. And it won’t happen if we realize that the spirit of thanks we feel on Thanksgiving Day is meant to be enjoyed by us year-round. But how do we acquire such an attitude when there’s just so much to complain about?
Simple. We take a moment every day to remind ourselves of one of the most important spiritual maxims we’ll ever learn: Nothing happens in this world but by the order of God, or at least by His divine permission, and all that He wills or permits will turn to the advantage of those who are resigned to Him.
Sure, this is tough when things go wrong such as terrorist attacks that take the lives of innocents, the illness or death of loved ones, the loss of our income or reputation.
But let’s not forget that there’s a brighter side to this maxim as well.
For instance, God willed that we born and raised here, in affluent America, rather than in a third world nation. He willed for us to have the freedom to stand tall every Sunday in our churches and profess our faith rather than in a nation where Christians are imprisoned for making even the slightest public gesture of faith in Jesus Christ. He willed that we live in a city full of schools, supermarkets, gas stations and shopping malls. He willed that we have the means to use these facilities to one degree or another. Every member of our family was willed for us, as well as the neighbors next door and the parishioners we share a pew with every Sunday. Out of all the possible choices He could have made, this is what He chose specifically for each one of us.
But these are just the obvious blessings. What about the little blessings we never pay attention to, like the clothes we’re wearing right now, along with the warm house and comfortable chair we’re sitting in while we read this article on our computer. How about the luxury of that cup of coffee or tea beside us, the soap we’ll use in the shower later, or the bed we’ll sleep in tonight?
To get the full impact of this thought, imagine if one of these little things was missing. No shelter. No electricity. No heat. No soap. No bed. Think of all the suffering we would endure if even one of them was missing.
Suddenly, these things don’t seem so little anymore, do they?
Now just imagine what it would be like if we devoted a few minutes every day to focus on all of these “little” things God has willed for us, every tiny nuance that makes up all the thousands of minutes, days, weeks, months, and years of our life. It won’t take long for us to forget about the few bad things that happen compared to the mountains of blessings we receive every day.
And in the meantime, we’ll notice that our whole attitude about life is changing. We have a brighter outlook which makes us happier, more joyful people because our hearts are filled with gratitude.
And yet these would be only minor benefits compared with the rich spiritual reward God has ready for the grateful of heart.
As Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene explains in his book, Divine Intimacy, gratitude teaches us true humility.
“Because we’re so incapable of paying our debts to God, we should at least try to supply for them by our gratitude. Even the poorest beggar, having nothing to give in return for the alms he has received, can always acknowledge a kindness by showing gratitude to his benefactor,” he writes.
“This is our position to God: we have nothing of our own; all that we are and have comes from Him, and in return for His infinite generosity, we can do nothing but use His gifts to express our gratitude to Him.”
Unfortunately, too many of us neglect this duty to God, even the devout who have received the most favors. Like the ten lepers Jesus cured, only one came back to thank Him. This grateful leper was a “stranger,” while the other nine were Jews. It is significant that the nine ungrateful lepers were fellow citizens of Jesus and the recipients of His most privileged vocation – to be His followers – and yet they were the very ones who showed Him the least gratitude.
“It is almost as if the multiplicity of the graces which they received dulled their sensitiveness to the divine gifts,” Father Gabriel reflects. “Ingratitude always redounds to the disadvantage of the soul.”
Gratitude, on the other hand, attracts new graces, new gifts. Why is this?
Because a grateful heart is a humble heart and nothing is more attractive to God. A humble heart knows its weakness, knows it can claim credit for nothing, and thus turns to God for off of its needs. It cries out for His assistance like the child calls for its parent. This attitude endears us to God who, like any mother or father, delights in caring for us.
On the other hand, the proud heart mistakenly believes that their affluent position is due to their own efforts. Although one must indeed be a cooperator in God’s plan, ultimately, every ounce of success we achieve is willed by God. To Him alone belongs the credit for our talent, family, career, possessions. Make no mistake, even the tiniest portion of our blessings are a part of His plan.
On this Thanksgiving Day when we gather to give thanks, even if some of our guests are rushing off to Walmart, let us be the keepers of the spirit of Thanksgiving not just for today, but for every day. All it takes is cultivating a grateful heart, one that never lets a day go by without savoring the blessings of the day. Put a stick-um on the bathroom mirror or the dashboard of the car reminding you to “Give thanks!” Vow never to go to sleep at night without a simple “thank you” to the One who blessed you with another day of life. These seemingly inconsequential habits will begin to change you, little by little, into a happier and more grateful person.
If you persevere, by this time next year, you’ll come to the table on Thanksgiving Day with a whole new respect for the spirit of this blessed day.