By David Hegg
On Oct. 3, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving take place on the fourth Thursday in November. In the aftermath of Gettysburg, the battle that turned the tide of the bloody Civil War, Lincoln asked that the day be one of “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Today Thanksgiving stands as a uniquely American holiday filled with the grand traditions of food and family. But in too many cases I fear food and football have pushed the actual giving of thanks off the table. It’s time to recover this much-needed attitude in hopes it will shape our lives more than one day a year.
Winston Churchill is famous for saying many things, but one that stands out is his characterization of democracy as “the worst kind of government except for every other kind.” As wonderful as democracy is, with its passion for liberty and individual freedom, it can also produce some dangerous attitudes. One of these is a sense of entitlement fueled by the growing expansion of what constitute our rights.
Originally, these “rights” were enumerated as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Today, too many think they are entitled to happiness, and wealth, and comfort, and success without ever having toiled in the pursuit. And, unfortunately, our system continues to bend to their will. But a nation of individuals who get more and more while striving less and less will inevitably become a nation without any sense of thankfulness. After all, if I deserve it, why should I be thankful when I get it?
Thankfulness arises from an understanding that my well-being has been enhanced by someone else’s effort. Thankfulness is the heart attitude of gratitude, by which we display appreciation for what we have received. Thankfulness is an essential part of any meaningful relationship, and a key component in maintaining a humble mindset. Thankfulness is characteristic of those individuals whose self-awareness fits them to be liked by others and prized by their close friends. Thankfulness also buoys the heart where it resides, and from which it flows naturally and gracefully. To be truly thankful is to nourish both your own soul, and those to whom your gratitude is extended.
But the self-centered attitude of entitlement leaves no room for thankfulness. It’s a wonder the “Thank You” note industry hasn’t gone out of business. I tell my staff all the time to find any excuse they can to send thank-you notes. Why? Because gratitude is powerful, both for our hearts and for those whose generosity deserves to be honored.
This week our nation will push the pause button on work, and spend a whole day celebrating our privileges while thanking our God for preserving our lives, our families, and our nation. At least that’s what President Lincoln expected. I say we put some effort into meaningful conversations and declarations of thankfulness with those close to us. After all, if we’re honest we’ll have to admit that most of what we prize, and what makes our lives worth living, came to us from outside ourselves. We’ve been blessed by our God, and by those who came before us. Let’s take time to be thankful, and maybe we’ll figure out a way to be thankful all the time.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.