This is the time of year when we all gather round the table wearing Joey’s Thanksgiving pants*, stuff our faces way too full with turkey, potatoes, and pie, and then fall asleep in front of a fireplace or football game. The common refrain around the end of November in America is “what are you thankful for?” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for anything that causes us to pause and look inward at what we value. But– and maybe this really is our culture on a trajectory I don’t understand, or maybe it’s just the cranky old man inside me that’s taking over my brain way ahead of his time– I can’t help but feel that every year, that question gets a little more trite and a little more shallow. We live in a culture where our $700 pocket computers get upgraded every year, but every year, it’s never enough for the critics. We live in a country where you can get turn-by-turn directions at a moment’s notice, or order a personalized dish from thousands of restaurants, or shop the selection of virtually every storeowner in the world, all with the tap of a finger. We can browse, buy, and watch any movie we want without leaving our couch. There are literally robots in New Zealand that will bring your pizza to your front door. What does thankfulness mean in a world where everything we want is given to us at the lift of a finger? Can we be grateful at the same time we’re demanding newer, better, faster everything every day and showing off only the most glamorous parts of ourselves on social media, only to be disappointed when we don’t get as many likes as we feel we deserve?
What is Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is, obviously, the giving of thanks. But what does that mean? Why do we give them? What do we give them for? Who do we give them to? Is it just something we rattle off every November so that other people will leave us alone so we get back to the dessert table? No, as Christians, it should be something infinitely more meaningful. As Christians, thanksgiving should have two parts: the what and the who. The most obvious thing a Christian has to be thankful for is his salvation. We have been saved from an eternity apart from Him, and through a means we could never have achieved on our own! Our unshakeable joy and constant thanksgiving is a direct response to a gift we haven’t deserved, but have been freely given. After we have identified the gift, we must identify the Gift Giver. Can you imagine how awkward it would be if a husband bought his precious wife an expensive necklace to show his love for her, and when complimented on it by her friends, she merely said, “Isn’t it shiny?” If she never mentioned where it came from, her husband might rightly begin to wonder if she was ashamed of the action of his gift to her. Similarly, when we are asked about our joy as Christians, we rob God of His glory when we conceal its origin. Thanksgiving should be a weighty response to a costly gift.
#Blessed vs. Blessed for Real
We’ve all seen it. Many of us have even done it. 2016’s version of the humblebrag is #blessed. The picture from the beach at sunset, drink in hand, tide rolling past our feet with the single-word caption. Or the tweet about how many friends came out for your birthday party, and all the wonderful gifts they gave you. Those things are both just fine, and there’s no inherent issue in sharing them. The issue comes in the heart behind why we share them, and only the sharer knows that. I just have a sneaking suspicion that we are beginning to use spiritual vocabulary to sneakily incite sinful envy, which is not what true blessings are designed to do. True blessings are designed to invite others to worship the God from Whom all blessings flow along with you. If you’re (and I’m speaking to myself here, too) instead using them to steal some of that praise for yourself, stop it. Examine your heart and redirect your thanksgiving and praise to the Gift Giver instead of hoarding it for yourself. Just because you use the hashtag doesn’t automatically mean you’re self-centered, or that your heart is in the wrong place. But there is a serious epidemic of collecting self-praise under the guise of humble thanksgiving that we should all be aware of before it creeps up in our own post history. An easy way to break this cycle, hopefully before it starts, is to think with perspective. If you’re reading this, you’re on a computer, a tablet, or a phone. Think about how many people there are around the world that don’t even have electricity to charge one of those, let alone dream of owning one. As we sit around our tables overflowing with food tomorrow, give thanks to God that He has allowed you to be born into an economy where that is possible, as there are many, many who will go without a meal yet again. We in the developed world live incredibly privileged lives, and we owe deep gratitude to God for His true blessing on us in that fact. Not out of Pharisee-style arrogance because we’re somehow better than those that live a harder life, but out of humility, because we’re absolutely not better, and none of us have done anything to deserve our wealth, yet God has decided to give it to us anyway. That is what a true blessing is, no hashtag necessary.
Do This Year Different
This year, when the talk around the table turns to the theme of the day, have something specific in mind to share. Skip the usual canned responses and spend some time in prayer, really cataloguing all that God has given you in this life. You’ll be amazed, and your thanksgiving will be the most genuine it can be. Thanksgiving is a day of humility, not self-centeredness. Enjoy it, and enjoy the One that makes it possible.