As the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaches it looks as though we will be celebrating it in different ways this year. Many families will forego the larger extended family gatherings. Travel that brings households together from across the state or nation is being discouraged. Plans are being made for virtual gatherings, or smaller gatherings where check-ins can be had through Facetime or Zoom meetings. All of this is of course due to the continued spread of the Coronavirus, which is clearly in the midst of a surge in most places.
Given these circumstances, and the impact Covid-19 continues to wield on many other facets of life, I found myself thinking lately that I’m kind of over all of it. (Or I wish we could be). I never thought, as a pastor, I would discourage people from coming to church once in the course of a year, let alone twice. Just as we were enjoying and doing pretty well with some additional in-person gatherings, we’ve felt it best to pull back on those in an abundance of caution. But man, it just stinks to have to do this again! And it’s difficult to break that news to people – even people who agree with it, let alone those who have different opinions. So, for much of the past few days I’ve not been feeling overly thankful. In fact, given all that 2020 has thrown our way, I – like a lot of people – would just as soon usher it out the door; if only that would solve all our challenges.
Still, there’s this tradition called Thanksgiving looming. Of all the national or civic holidays (some would say Hallmark holidays) I’ve always felt the church can embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving more than many. Our faith calls us to be thankful people, after all. But, what do you do when you are not feeling all that thankful?
For me, the spiritual practices of faith – things like corporate worship, reading Scripture, daily prayer – are frameworks that God has encouraged because over time they form and craft us into people who more readily reflect our redeemed status. This is to say, when you go and worship, even if you don’t feel like it, chances are that something during worship will connect you to the wonder of God’s love. Perhaps it’s a song or a prayer, a Scripture reading or something said in the sermon. By giving yourself to the practice, you genuinely enter into the experience. The same can be said of personal prayer or reading the Bible.
I feel this is also true in the practice of gratitude. When we don’t especially feel grateful, to enter into the process of giving thanks, may well usher us into a spirit of thanksgiving. Just consider how many of the Psalms pick up themes of thanksgiving. Read Psalm 9, 23, 27, 34, 37, 40, 91, 100, 103, 107, 111, 118 or many others and you will be drawn into a spirit of reflection and perhaps even thanksgiving.
Often our human nature causes us to focus on what we cannot do, what we do not have, or what we feel we are missing. The practice of thanksgiving turns that around. It asks us to reflect on what we can do, what we do have, and what is filling our life. Giving ourselves to the process of giving thanks, be it through making a list of what we have to be thankful for, or reading a list of the psalmist’s thanksgivings; it provides us with a framework within which we just may be able to rekindle gratitude.
So, yes, Thanksgiving 2020 may look a little different. But it is still good to practice giving thanks, because in the practice we are cementing a habit or way of life that becomes ever more permanent to our constitution.
How about we get started? What are you thankful for?