Some Thoughts on Giving Thanks

by Philip Jeske


THANKFULNESS AS OBLIGATION

It’s Thanksgiving and, around this time of year, we get into the “holiday spirit”.  It almost feels like the fourth Thursday of November is the first day of the Christmas Season.  However, we do take a quick moment to tell people and ourselves the things we are thankful for, make one rushed proclamation like saying penance, quickly move on to hitting the Black Friday sales, and then dig out the Christmas lights.  So, for this brief moment, while I’ve got your attention and you’re feeling the pressure to count your blessings, lend me your ears for just a few minutes as you contemplate this holiday.

What are you thankful for?  If you’re at all like me, it feels like your answers are forced, and that’s because the question feels forced on us.  I would contend that it’s also because giving thanks is not really in our nature.  I think there is also some realization that, every time we start a list of what we are thankful for, the list is seemingly endless.  When you think about being thankful for, say, your job, you realize that you have to be thankful for whomever gave you the job, the customers who spend money that sustains the business you are in, the spouse, family, or partner that supports you in your efforts to maintain that job, the country and constitution that make it possible for you to have a job in the first place… and the list goes on.

 

THANKFULNESS IN THE ULTIMATE SENSE

Here’s a way around this endless list.  Why not, just this one time, decide who or what you should ultimately be thankful for, and express your gratitude for that, because this really covers all the bases.  Let’s face it; you’ve got one day to do all this eating and socializing and very little time to come up with lists.  Here’s your chance to be organized and efficient, minimize effort and streamline the process.  Just take a few moments and pare down to the essentials.

Here’s what I’ve come up with: Existence.  How can you get more fundamental than that?  I am thankful that I exist.  I didn’t have to exist.  Like you, I am a contingent being, not existing necessarily, but because my existence was caused.  Not only am I not responsible for causing my existence in any way, but I also have nothing to do with sustaining my own existence.  That seems to cover everything.  It gets to the root of the thankfulness list.  Anything you could put on that list is totally contingent upon the fact that you exist, and the fact that you exist can be thought of as a free gift because you did nothing and do nothing to contribute to your own existence.

 

THANKFULNESS AS ATTRIBUTION.

This still begs the question, though.  To whom are you thankful for your existence?  Of course, directly, you can thank your parents (and you should), but to whom should you be thankful for your parents’ existence?  Your grandparents, of course, but then how far do we take that back into the past?  There is some thing that is ultimately responsible for the existence of all your past ancestry. 

Think about it like this:  If an event, Z, happens because Y happened, and Y happened because X happened, etc., then you eventually end up saying C happened because B happened because A happened.  How did A happen?  We could continue this forever, right?  Well, no, not really.  There must be a first cause of your existence, because if there wasn’t some first cause that wasn’t caused by something else, then there wouldn’t be you.  You wouldn’t exist.  If nothing could exist without something else existing first, then nothing would exist.  It can be a little mind boggling to think about these things; no?

But maybe that’s why we don’t like making thankfulness lists.  The list has to begin, ultimately, with a first cause of everything we are thankful for, and starting with that first thing is a heavy thought.  You’ve basically got two options.  Either that first cause is mindless matter that exists for no reason, which means you don’t have any ultimate purpose, OR you were purposefully made by someONE.  Of course, you know where I’m going with this.

In order for you to be thankful for anything, you need to first exist. In order to first exist, you need God.  Ultimately, you have God to thank that you are even here at all.


THANKFULNESS LIVED OUT

A common platitude passed around this time of year is the idea that we should not be thankful just on Thanksgiving, but all year round.  We hear it so often, that we lose the significance of the idea.  But while I’ve still got your attention (It hasn’t been that bad; right?), think about what this might do for your life if you were to live in a state of mind, in which you are thankful to God for your very existence.  How would you conceive of those things that are normally on your list?  Thank God you have an existence which includes an incredible planet to live on, food in abundance, family, health, a home.  What if you approached even your simple pleasures this way?  Thank God for an existence that allows me an ample breakfast and a hot cup of coffee!

If we live in thankfulness that fully realizes that everything we have is contingent upon this unearned and undeserved gift of existence, we might also start to think about how we can gift others whose existence may not be so abundant.  God has given you so much.  What are you doing with it?  How much are you using your time, talents, and treasure to serve others.  There are a lot of people around the world who don’t have any idea what it’s like to take an ample breakfast and a hot cup of coffee for granted.  Imagine living life in a state of mind where you don’t take anything for granted or as deserved, but as a sacred gift.  Imagine living in a way that seeks to give what was never ultimately yours in the first place, and won’t last in the end anyway.



THE GREATEST GIFT

As much as we ought to be thankful for what we have now, we know that these things don’t last.  Eventually we will pass from this world and we won’t just stop existing.  We will continue to exist for eternity and we will either continue in the presence of God or eternally separated from Him.  There is really nothing we can do to earn the privilege of God’s presence either.  However, Christ has stepped in and become our advocate.  He has given us His righteousness that we might be able to stand blameless before God.  He took on our sin that it might be crucified with Him on the cross.  Not only has God given us life and abundance now, but He has adopted us as sons (heirs), making us His Holy Father and Jesus our brother. 

This Thanksgiving, maybe stick to the esseentials.  Thank God that He has chosen to create us and sustain us.  Thank God that He paid the ultimate price to guarantee an existence with Him for eternity.  Let those thoughts permeate our attitudes throughout the year, and may we be as generous with others as God has been with us.