Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, I hope you’re enjoying the holidays as much as I am! The days are getting shorter here in Tennessee, and it’s ironic that the season of Thanksgiving has come upon us in the midst of these gloomy grey days. Then again, perhaps it isn’t ironic, as it’s the gloomy grey times when gratitude is by far the most useful.
“Useful” probably isn’t the word you’re used to associating with thankfulness. Those of you who grew up anything like me no doubt sat through your fair share of sermons and Sunday school lessons on gratitude as a thing that we owe to each other, or maybe to God, in return for all He has given us. Or maybe you got the more advanced version: that gratitude is something we are directed to practice for our own sake, as a means of appreciating what we have and thereby attaining contentment.
I’ll be honest, that was my first instinct when I sat down to write to all of you this week… and it just didn’t quite feel right. I actually do believe in that second one, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a little too easy for me to talk about, given how amazingly fortunate I am. Still, tis the season, so I hope you’ll all bear with me for a few minutes of giving thanks.
One of the great pleasant discoveries of my spiritual life is that the strangest and most unreasonable commandments often have surprisingly practical reasons—like how that business in Leviticus turned out to be mostly a hygiene program for promoting public health in a time long before things like germs had been discovered. Gratitude is in a similar bind to forgiveness, as it was once described by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity—that those who need it are often those already wronged, and that it seems unfair to demand it of them when they are already so unfairly put-upon.
I agree it is unfair, and saying that it is for your own good does little (if anything) to lessen the sting. Furthermore, there is certainly a time to fight against unfairness, a time to be discontented with things that are not right and to let that discontent spark positive change—but it is not all the time. There is a time to fight, and a time for peace. And to my mind, that is what gratitude is: a way of making peace with an unfair world.
For those of us with an abundance to be grateful for, it is even more necessary that we remember to be so. Those who are privileged, but have no gratitude tend to be the ones creating the unfairness for everyone else. When you think about it, that’s only natural. If you never stop to reflect and be thankful for what you already have, how would you ever know when to stop?
I don’t know if the world is more unfair now than it ever has been, but I do know that we are bombarded every day with all manner of offence, injustice, and just plain meanness, in the news and perhaps in our personal lives as well. And while it would be irresponsible to ignore those things entirely, it’s important to remember that it is not weakness to lay down our arms and remember all that we have to share with one another.
Peace be with you, and have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd