I have heard many Thanksgiving blessings over the years at public gatherings, interfaith worship services, and meetings. Some are beautiful reflections of deep and humble gratitude for faith, family, and friendship.
But the prayers that bug me go something like this, "Lord, we're so proud to live in America, where we have all this great food to eat. In fact, we have way more than we need. I'm planning to gain a pound today and that's just awesome. Also, thank you for all of our riches ... um, I mean 'blessings' ... because it's so great to be part of the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. We're so glad we're not poor like people in other countries, thanks to you."
I'm exaggerating, of course. Please forgive me. But I wonder about prayers that simply thank God for our bounty, our food, and all the great things we enjoy. Isn't there a hint of the Pharisee who was thankful that he wasn't "like that tax collector over there"? It's the nature of true gratitude to go deeper than that. It's the nature of the American holiday itself to go deeper than that.
When the pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, it was a harvest feast held with the Wampanoaga Native Americans after a long saga of strife. They were religious separatists who longed for freedom to practice their faith. Their two month trip on the Mayflower to the new world was not only uncomfortable, it was treacherous. The first winter was brutal and many of them stayed on the ship, where they suffered from exposure and disease. Half of the original pilgrims died before they saw their first spring. Yes, half. The ones that lived barely managed to eat until this first harvest. But by the grace of God, they made it.
So when they celebrated the first Thanksgiving, it wasn't out of thanks for their bounty, riches, plenty, and comfort. It was out of deep gratitude that they were still breathing, and out of sheer joy that finally a harvest had come. It was out of the realization that every moment is a gift, every opportunity a grace. It was out of the belief that it was worth the hardship to live the great adventure and find religious freedom. And most of all, it was out of the firm conviction that God had blessed them through the struggle. God was the source of their truth, their beauty, and their sustenance.
I find it intriguing that it wasn't until the middle of the Civil War that Lincoln proclaimed this tradition to be a national holiday held each November. Even in our hardest times, we proclaim God's goodness. Thanksgiving is about gratitude, not about prosperity.
So this year, let your prayers go deeper. Thank God for the ways you have "made it" by grace. Acknowledge that your livelihood and well-being are in God's hands. Don't just pray about the food, recall the tough times you had this year. Remember that God is the source of all goodness, and be thankful that we are all in this together and that God sees us through. Reflect upon Jesus, who taught in the beatitudes that blessings come disguised as hardship. Let your heart be filled with gratitude, no matter what.