“joy and gladness will be found …thanksgiving and the sound of singing” Isaiah 51:3b
When the Bible calls people to Thanksgiving (to offer a generous sacrifice), it is often in spite of the circumstances the community faces. Isaiah calls upon the post-exilic Jews returning to Jerusalem to stand in the ruins of the Temple and offer thanks!
American society and its media empire ask us to celebrate the “perfect holiday” (offering us for sale all the things we’ll need to pull it off). Movies on The Hallmark Channel give us idyllic pictures of families that easily celebrate a meaningful dinner, effortlessly. No one throws or spills food. Everyone sits around joyously sipping mulled cider (in immaculate kept homes), while mom works happily, singing in the kitchen. Grandma is so happy to get warm socks, a daughter delighted to get her handmade sweater, a son swooning over a game ball. No one is disappointed.
In reality, families are under economic stress trying to meet unrealistic standards of Americana. Children put out holiday list of electronic marvels, while parents are hesitant not to fulfill the list, to avoid disappointment. Families get together and fight over remote controls, political posturing, football rivalries, and disappointments, both personal and communal. Many dread the pressure of the holiday season and the inevitable let down of the post-season depression.
Why do our religious traditions ask us to offer Thanks amidst all the stress? Our faith believes there is health in having “an Attitude of Gratitude”. Martin Luther called Gratitude, “a basic Christian attitude”. Being grateful, even while your current problems or circumstances may not be ideal, is not to deny or minimize what is happening, but is the recognition that we can be grateful in addition to (or in spite of) our lives. To be bitter is to be “narrow-souled” or “narrow-minded”. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul asks us to “in everything give thanks”.
Being thankful opens us to God’s presence, brings us closer to God, and creates the environment for transformation. Recent studies (the Happiness Project) show us that as we offer thanks, stress and depression are lessened, and a higher sense of well-being is realized. Such focus on ‘appreciation’ increases our physical health, as our immune systems are more responsive.
While you’re buying your Thanksgiving Turkey try the theories out. Be kind and generous with the person at the cash register and (the studies show) the attitude of everyone in the grocery line changes – – they will begin to treat themselves and everyone around them better! Send a thank you note to someone – – they will light up that you thought of them and took the time to reach out to them. Give yourself to a ‘hands-on mission” during the holidays, and you will fill yourself with a sense that you “did well”.
Recently, someone was telling me how people were making requests for Thanksgiving. A girl friend is Vegan, a friend is Paleo, another Gluten-Free, and then she asked, “Have you ever heard of the ‘anti-inflammatory diet’?
I mentioned there are 38 diets circulating presently and asked, “Do you ever give thanks that people actually believe you can make it all happen?”
Helen Keller, blind from birth, once said, “The most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched – – they must be felt with the heart.”
Wishing you all a Heart-felt Thanksgiving
(In spite of dieting expectations)
Rev John G. Hughes