‘Tis the season…to give thanks. Thanksgiving is the time when we are reminded to give thanks, though giving thanks is best practiced as a daily exercise in our lives year round.
Why do we give thanks? In The Book of Common Prayer, used by the Episcopal Church, congregants are exhorted to give thanks unto the Lord because it is meet and right so to do. King David exhorts his readers throughout his writings to acknowledge the greatness and goodness of the Lord and offer Him praise and thanks. The Apostle Paul instructs his Thessalonian readers to rejoice always and in everything give thanks.
So is giving thanks a duty that we do as a perfunctory matter of obedience? Certainly, there are challenges to gratitude in our world and lives today; we may not feel grateful, may not feel like giving thanks. We are living in a pandemic, with its associated anxiety, grief, and relational and economic pressures. But just as certainly, there were challenges to gratitude last year, before COVID-19 was a thing. King David faced his share of challenges to gratitude as he places complaints and cries of distress right alongside his offerings of praise and thanksgiving. And the Apostle Paul reminds his Corinthian readers that he had been beaten with rods, stoned, and shipwrecked three times. Neither man of God minimizes or denies his hardship and pain. And yet, there is not the slightest hint of obligation in the expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving offered by David and Paul. It very much seems that thanksgiving need not be particularly dependent on or reflective of our circumstances.
James encourages his readers to Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James reminds his readers—and us—that even trials can be cause for thanksgiving when we remember that our faithful and redemptive Lord will use all things for our great good.
And yet, it seems to me that giving thanks must also reach beyond our circumstances. When we cultivate a grateful heart and persistently exercise our thanksgiving muscles, we are changed, transformed. We become grateful people who reflect the goodness of the living God abiding in us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observes that “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.” As we consider this season of Thanksgiving and holiday celebrations in the midst of pandemic struggles, we may begin to give thanks out of a desire to obey or a sense of duty. But let us not stop there! May we follow the model set by King David and the Apostle Paul and become genuinely and deeply grateful people before the Lord.