I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. – Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863
Even atheists say “thank God.” Gratitude is an odd word that demands both a “for” and a “to.” It is usually pretty obvious what one is thankful “for.” But we tend to forget that, in saying it, we are thanking someone or something for the gift. To whom are we grateful? If someone gives us something or does something for us, we thank them. It’s concrete, tangible, unambiguous. But to whom are we expressing gratitude when we reflect on the many good things we have that, for lack of a better term, were dropped in our lap?
Lincoln’s proclamation left no doubt as to whom he felt our nation should be grateful. And for the most part people who would not call themselves believers still feel gratitude towards some vague, amorphous condition that they might call luck or fate or some such. For believers, we know that luck and blessing are two very different things. Being lucky just means that you got an outcome you didn’t necessarily deserve, it just came out that way. Could have come out different, but “I was just lucky, I guess.” Lady Luck is simply the personification of blind and random forces in life that determine our fate. Inescapable, amoral and impersonal. No one says “Thank Luck.”
Being blessed is another matter entirely. We are the object of a transitive verb, and how we choose to fill in the “subject” says much about who we are. At one extreme, it is again a vague and impersonal force or being, “The Universe,” a “Higher Power,” something that is “out there” giving us goodies. Funny thing is, when the gift brings with it suffering, God usually gets the blame. Even though they may not believe in God, they still need someone to pin it on.
At the other extreme, there are those of us who believe God to be a personal, loving and powerful being. When we are blessed we say “thanks be to God.” Except when the gift brings with it suffering, we aren’t thankful. It is because that in saying that, we imply that God causes bad things to happen to those who don’t deserve it. Especially me.
But for us Christians, real faith in God requires us to be grateful for all the blessings we receive, even the ones that seem malevolent. Real faith sees the hand of God in everything, the bad as well as the good, for “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
We are grateful for good family, nice friends, a home, puppies, rainbows, unicorns. But never cancer or loss or hardship. Do I have the spiritual maturity to be grateful for the whole package, or do I, as was suggested to Job, “curse God and die?” It would be the height of denial to say that my circumstances today are what I would have chosen. But I don’t believe God gave me cancer, twice. What I am grateful for is that God is with me in my cancer, that I am not alone in this burden. And I fervently believe that good will come of it, that my acceptance of what I have been given will in some or many ways bless someone else.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, I thank God who has so richly blessed me in all aspects of my life. And I thank all of you, family and friends who have walked this difficult path with me, for your generous and sincere love. I’m not lucky but I am blessed.