November. Thus begins shorter days, grey skies, cold temperatures, and holiday preparations. Same old, same old. What new and fresh thoughts do we need as we enter this winter holiday season?
As I’ve thought and prayed about this, I realized that my question was directing me to the whole point of the Thanksgiving holiday—we don’t need new information; we need to be reminded of what we already know.
Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, instituted by President Lincoln in 1863, it reflects the mindset of the early Christian settlers who, 200 years prior to the Civil War, were giving thanks to God for their survival in this country. Those pilgrims were living in hardship and had been through extraordinary suffering. Still, they knew that God is real and that God is good; they also knew the importance of a grateful heart. Gratitude enables us to see beyond ourselves and our circumstances. In particular, it allows us to see more clearly who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Gratitude fuels perseverance and grants hope. Grumbling, on the other hand, keeps us self-focused and accentuates our misery.
The quintessential illustration of this is the post-Exilic Israelites as they traveled into the wilderness. Even though they had just experienced God’s goodness in rescuing them from Egyptian slavery and facilitating their escape by parting the Red Sea, they began to grumble almost immediately. Thus their 40 years of wandering began. Their lack of gratitude continued into the next generation, and when Moses sent spies into the Promised Land, 10 of the 12 could not see what God was doing and reported that the land was populated by giants that could not be overcome.
When God finally did bring them into the Promised Land, He instructed them to stop in the middle of the Jordan River. God then reprised His Exodus act and held up the water so that the nation of Israel could cross without getting their feet wet. As part of this exercise, God instructed them to remove 12 boulders from the middle of the river bed and take them to their place of lodging as a reminder to the people—and the generations that would follow—of God’s personal, loving, powerful goodness.
Like the Israelites, we are forgetful people. I concluded many years ago that I would make a good Israelite. It is painfully easy for me to forget God’s faithful protection and provision, and I am quick to complain and slow to give thanks. And so I have developed a habit preserving my own personal “memory stones,” mementos that serve to remind me of the Lord’s gracious faithfulness in my life. I can then return to my personal memory stones whenever I need encouragement to look to the Lord in difficult circumstances.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a memory stone of sorts. Although it is not as precise and personal as the stones in the Jordan River or my own memory stones, our celebration of Thanksgiving, year after year, offers us a memory booster that inoculates us from grumbling and encourages an attitude of gratitude. It is its predictability and the memories generated year after year that give this holiday its power. We do not need new, different, or exciting. We simply need to remember that our lives are in the hands of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-wise, and all-loving God.
I, for one, will praise God for Thanksgiving.