Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved holidays in the United States. Full of tradition and myth, many people now use the day to rest, take time to be with family and settle into the winter. It is also a celebration full of controversy as Americans grapple with the realities of history told through one lens.
The question now is, how is the heart and idea of giving thanks on this day honoured, whilst recognising that the legends surrounding Thanksgiving have been white-washed and simplified to negate some of the true horrors of time?
Pilgrims were not all good, or all bad. Not all were seeking religious freedom, though many were. Relations between Native Americans and then newly arrived Europeans were complex and strained. The incoming population were both neighbours and invaders. Yet out of all this there is a day with the possibility to commemorate unity, thanks for successful harvests and a recognition that thanksgiving is at the heart of a full life.
Both communities practiced gratitude in their everyday lives. There wasn’t really a ‘first’ Thanksgiving. Through the rhythm of the year there were always dedicated points (often around harvest) to celebrate the good gifts that had come after struggle. Safe voyages, provision of food and health were all common reasons for occasions of praise and thanksgiving in all circumstances.
We can never really know what happened the day that pilgrims and Native Americans shared a table. We don’t fully know what food they ate, how they conversed or what they talked about. But we can still learn from them and begin to understand the relationship between generosity and gratitude. Even in the telling of a much changed story there is a glimpse of our heart’s desire: to be reconciled with each other and with God.
2020 feels like a year when it may be harder to rejoice always, or to give thanks in all circumstances. However you may feel about the results of elections, outcomes of protests or tactics to combat the pandemic there has been great upheaval and uncertainty. It may be that you’re feeling the glimmer of hope, or instead that grief has set in.
Yet, here is it in Scripture: rejoice always, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
The generosity of Jesus teaches us how to walk in these ways of prayer, praise and gratitude. He shows us how to receive and how to give and somehow gloriously relates them to each other. God is only good. Unlike the other stories that point towards his goodness, scripture gives us the story on which we rest. Where there is gratitude there is wholeness and increased well-being. This has been proven by several studies, including this one.
It’s so freeing to recognise that God wants us to learn what Paul explains in Philippians 4:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)
By focusing on the unchanging Lord, we can safely rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances because our identity is found in Him. In Jesus, we have been given the greatest gift of all which nothing can take away. So we are free to give and continue the cycle of generosity, not just for ourselves but for our neighbours and brothers and sisters.
Where would you like to see reconciliation? How can you be generous with your time or resource or thoughts? What does it look like to fill your table with people who may think, worship or look differently to you?
This Thanksgiving, whether you celebrate the day or not, whether it looks different than before, whether there is a new element of repentance this year, remember that it is God’s will, in Christ Jesus, that you will be able to find rejoicing, to continually converse with Him and know that thanks leads ultimately to freedom.