Saving Thanksgiving

I’ve noted something recently about Thanksgiving in particular and American gratitude in general. Our gratitude is generally accompanied by a spirit of resignation or complacency. I read posts and hear comments all the time to this effect: “Sure, America is going down the toilet, but it’s still the greatest country on earth. We still have all these freedoms left, so I really can’t complain.” That’s kind of like saying, “Hey, I blew half of my savings on Black Friday, but I don’t want to be a whiny pessimist about it. I’m still really thankful my savings account is half full.”

There is a reason the last Thursday in November is called Thanksgiving rather than Thanks-in-taking. Our gratitude shouldn’t stop with what we’ve gotten. Thanksgiving is not about words of complacency and resignation. Because the nature of Thanksgiving radiates beyond the individual.

Real thanksgiving is just that—it’s giving. It’s not enough to say, “I’m so thankful for what I still get from this country.” Instead, our attitude must be, “What can I do so that, in the future, my neighbors as well as my great grandchildren will also get to enjoy what I have enjoyed?” That’s what it means to give thanks. It’s about sharing and growing what is good. Not about using it up.

Now there are some people in this country that selfishly use up the goodness that is given them, and they aren’t even grateful for it. And that’s not good. Thanks-in-taking is definitely better than just plain taking, for sure. But if you really want to get in the spirit of Thanksgiving today, you need to do more than just gratefully receive. You must gratefully give as well. You must allow your gratitude to inspire you with a fervor to save what is good in the country, not blow it.

Consider the attitude of the Founding Fathers, who fought and bled “to secure the blessings of liberty” for themselves and their posterity. Later, our country became a place where we shared those blessings with strangers as well. The Statue of Liberty, one of our most famous national symbols, testifies to the American passion for sharing. It wasn’t good enough to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves. Or our children. We secured it for the world as well. Because real gratitude always results in selfless action. We used to recognize that the only way to grow wealth is to be generous with it.

But that has certainly changed. When did the American Thanksgiving switch from an active gratitude to a complacent gratitude most aptly represented by a post-feasting tryptophan coma and a post-holiday buying binge? This began when we stopped giving thanks to and started giving thanks exclusively for.

Thanksgiving was originally intended to be a time to give thanks to God for all that He has given us in this country. And that attitude produces humility and a spirit of sharing. But when you are merely thankful for the things you have, the orientation is complacent and closed. When you say, “I am thankful for everything I have,” to whom are you really thankful? To the one you think produced all the stuff you have, namely, you. But, in fact, if God gave you all that you have, you are merely a steward of it.

That’s not to say you aren’t fully responsible for everything God has given you. God granted you authority over all the things you have—not another person and certainly not the civil government. You shouldn’t be forced to share, and you shouldn’t be told how to spend or not spend your money either. But reacting to socialism by being stingy or selfish just gives the false claims of socialists more superficial legitimacy.

You don’t own your blessings in an ultimate sense. And neither does anyone else. The spirit of Thanksgiving declares that everything good ultimately belongs to God. He has been gracious to give us so much. And that fact spurs us on to be gracious like He has been. As a steward of God’s blessings, are you doing with His things what He would have you do? Or are you merely using up His blessing of liberty?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, which from its inception has been a religious holiday, I’ll quote a few words from the Bible that I think most aptly apply to the much-blessed citizens of this country. What better day than Thanksgiving to consider these words and let them drive away our self-oriented, complacent shows of gratitude:

When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God . . . Otherwise, you may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deut. 8:10–14a, 17–18)