“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” ~ Cicero
A thankful person appreciates another for a benefit shown to them: a gift, a kind gesture, a selfless act. Thanksgiving is clearly the hallmark holiday to demonstrate and reflect on this virtue. Thankfulness, or gratitude, is largely associated with religion, although some people steer clear of deep spiritual beliefs. Christians honor God for his providence, and the American holiday began grounded in a tradition of thankfulness to God.
Moreover, thankfulness is humanizing to the heart. How often do we get caught up in the rigmarole of life trying to make things happen, trying to make something of ourselves, only to lose feeling and connectedness with all that should make sense and wholesomely gratify us. Gratitude, sharp as a knife, cuts through all the fluff and excess and allows us to notice just how substantive and appreciable are the basic elements of our lives.
Morning by Morning
But more than this, I think our aspiration in continuing to recognize Thanksgiving is indeed to connect spiritually with a higher essence or God from whom we might derive our well-being. Certainly Christians celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of God. How marvelous is that first stanza of the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
The verse celebrates a theological attribute of God: his constancy. You may know it by the term immutability; it means that the attributes of God’s nature and disposition are unchanging toward us. And surely beyond all the things we could think to be thankful for, we appreciate him foremost for being the very ground on which we stand.
Gratitude is personal and requires another person. I cannot be thankful to my car…for making the long trip or not conking out. Instead, I can be thankful (to one) for my car. Further, no one gets to hold gratitude in their hearts; it must be demonstrated…released. The first line above states this—“A thankful person appreciates another for some benefit shown to them.” There is transaction; orientation is present and always toward the other. Thankfulness, by its very nature, acknowledges the aid of someone and maybe even one’s dependence on them.
My conjecture is that most people get it right. In the spiritual way, even non-Christians will gladly acknowledge God’s goodness and activity in their lives, although they don’t serve him. They’ll give props to the “Big Guy” or thank “the Man upstairs.” People of other theistic religions thank their gods just the same.
But I wonder about some.
Could I ever be grateful to the universe? Does that even make sense? Or worse, to oneself or humanity, in a spiritually essential way? I think everyone has an innate, spiritual need to show gratitude, but many have lost their bearings. The human soul derives no transcendent significance, potential, or aid from an empty space or a fallen humanity; instead, it is sourced in God himself.
Sorry—the universe and pantheistic determinism is not God; that’s foolishness. And the rest of us should readily admit that our rascal selves are a poor excuse for God!
But David gets it right when he declares of Jehovah, “Be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Ps. 100:4). Our ultimate gratitude should always find its way back to God.
Speak Well of Him
I think the Thanksgiving season lends us Christians real help sharing our faith. Everyone experiences some good in their lives. The holiday makes it easier for us to talk about the good (and tough) things and appreciate the faithfulness of God.
Be mindful of what God has done in your life during your interactions this season—and beyond it because gratitude never ends. Just maybe God will use your testimony and perspectives to light a fire in someone’s heart.