“O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)
During this month of November, it is beautiful how our nation pauses to dedicate one day specifically for giving thanks. Every American president since Abraham Lincoln has made an official Thanksgiving Proclamation on behalf of our nation. On November 23, we all will continue in that tradition and offer thanksgiving to Almighty God for our countless blessings as a nation, as a Church Family, and as families and individuals.
Yet let us take care not to think that one day a year is enough to thank God! As Orthodox Christians, we joyfully participate in this national holiday of Thanksgiving, while simultaneously realizing that a follower of Jesus Christ is someone who acknowledges with gratitude all the blessings we receive each and every day! Life, love, faith, health, friendships and relationships, opportunities and special events, as well as our struggles, challenges and difficulties, and everything in between is a gift from our loving Father in heaven to us! Let us give thanks and live with an attitude of gratitude.
One of my favorite spiritual authors, Henri Nouwen, explains about the spirit of thanksgiving: “Gratitude goes beyond the "mine" and "thine" and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”
What a profound idea to think of “gratitude” as a discipline, instead of simply as a fleeting emotion that depends on our circumstances.
We can wholeheartedly embrace this discipline of gratitude because we understand that the action of thanksgiving is one which makes us humans unique. Of all creatures, only humans beings can choose to express gratitude, or choose to ignore the countless blessings of God. We must remember, though, that our unwillingness, or inability, to express gratitude is a deep, serious, spiritual illness.
In fact, this spirit of gratitude goes hand-in-hand with our Orthodox understanding of one’s spiritual journey. God calls all His followers to discipline themselves and struggle to maintain a true Christ-like spirit - which includes the spirit of gratitude, of joy, of humility, of love, of hope, and the list could go on.
Difficult and disappointing circumstances will tempt us to lose these Christian attitudes, but our spiritual discipline is precisely an effort to constantly live in communion with God and allow His Holy Spirit to fill us with His fruit of love, joy, peace, hope, and gratitude.
At each and every moment of our lives, we have a choice to make - whether to be grateful or to be ungrateful; to see life as a blessing, or to see it as a burden; to notice the hand of God present in our own reality, or to arrogantly think that we are our own god and we have achieved everything on our own.
This spirit and discipline of thanksgiving goes in line with our upcoming Stewardship Sunday. Every November, we chose one Sunday to be the day when we reflect upon the blessings that God has given us, and think about how we can show our gratitude back to God by offering Him a portion of the many gifts He has given us. These gifts come in many forms through our time, talents, and treasure. Acting as a good steward of God in His Church is a concrete way we can express our thanksgiving to Him!
Remember to live with this spirit of gratitude each and every day. Find ways to thank God, to thank one another, and to radiate thanksgiving always!
I thank God for each and every one of you who are in our Church Family, and I pray that you may have a most joyous and blessed Thanksgiving celebration.
With deep gratitude in Christ our Lord,