“Hear O Lord, and be merciful to me;
O Lord, be my help.
You turned my wailing into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. “ Psalm 30: 10-12
Maybe you saw the comic strip where a son asked his Father, “Why do we always have turkey on thanksgiving?” and the father answers, “Because it’s a tradition.” Then the son asks: “What’s a tradition?” And the father answers, “A tradition is something we’ve been doing so long we can’t even remember why we are doing it.” There is something about Thanksgiving that we must not lose as we continue its tradition. Thanksgiving is not only for giving thanks for what is around us, it is also about dreaming for the future. This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving, and I hope our nation will celebrate in two ways. The first way is the one we are all acquainted with: we must not take for granted those many blessings in our midst. The second way to celebrate is more elusive: we must look to the future with a hope and an aspiration that our ancestors possessed.
Giving thanks frees our souls from the perils of ingratitude. Maya Angelou said: “Giving liberates the soul of the believer.” The Apostle Paul told us that thanking God was a powerful way to give. He instructed us to make a list when he wrote, “Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.” Do you recall how Robinson Crusoe made lists on each side of a tablet? He would counter each negative aspect of his situation with a positive one. For instance, he wrote “I do not have any clothes” on one side, and “But it’s warm and I don’t really need any” on the other. Paul and Daniel Defoe knew a lot about the power of counting blessings, and since then others have proved how giving thanks truly can liberate the soul.
A recent psychology study featured four groups. The first group featured college students who listed five things in their lives they were thankful for and the second featured students who kept track of five negative things in their lives. The other two groups were suffering from chronic diseases, and they were also split into positive and negative listing groups. The March 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology stated that those who counted their blessings felt more positive about life. They slept better and felt more refreshed about life. Besides just feeling better, they also thought about their goals in life. They cared about how much progress they were making toward those goals. That is the half of the Thanksgiving tradition that we need to recover, a consideration of the future.
Sarah Ban Breathnach is known for quotes such as “The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” She used to be known as someone who had a negative attitude towards life, but her angry attitude shifted when she created a gratitude journal. This journal changed her attitude toward life and made her a best selling author when the journal was published as her book, Simple Abundance. “Dreamers who do..” is a proactive approach to being thankful. Persevering, no matter what, is a vital part of being thankful.
Maybe one of us will call the Butterball Turkey hotline in a few days. Jean Schnelle has worked as the director of the Butterball Turkey Talk Line for over 18 years. She and her team answer questions about cooking a turkey and how to solve problems with stoves. One call was outside of the ordinary. She was speaking with a woman about cooking her turkey when she learned that the woman was in Florida. A hurricane had destroyed most of her home. She was trying to cook a turkey on the stove that was still left on the foundation! That is the kind of American spirit Thanksgiving should engender, a forward thinking hope for what can still be.
This is a Biblical sentiment. When Job was left with nothing at all, he was turned toward God in thanksgiving. After he lost his farm, his family, and his health, Job 37:14 states, “Hear this O Job. Stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” Even in the toughest of times, Job is asked to count his blessings. The Pilgrims never seemed to lose this faith. They aspired to something better, and that dream propelled our nation forward. We owe so much to the way they reached into the future. The Victorian poet Robert Browning wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.” The Pilgrims did not settle for survival mode but advanced into a future they envisioned. A vision for the future is what gives Thanksgiving power.
Stephen Vincent Benet’s radio play about Christmas, “A Child is Born” includes these lines:
“Life can be lost without vision but not lost by death,
Lost by not caring, willing, going on
Beyond the ragged edge of fortitude
To something more…”
During Thanksgiving we imagine harvest actions such as reaping and sowing. The ancient Greeks’ short formula for how sowing and reaping works in regard to vision has become famous:
Plant a thought, reap an action;
Plant an action, reap a habit;
Plant a habit, reap a character;
Plant a character, reap a destiny.
The destiny of America is released in the legacy we leave our children. All that we see in our great nation is not enough to satisfy the heritage the Pilgrims left. We must see beyond what we have and help the next generation visualize a greater destiny.
Mort Myerson’s grandfather fled Russia because he was persecuted for being Jewish. Mort remembers his grandfather saying, “You fulfilled all of the dreams I had as a young man when I came to America,” when Mort became the president of Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems. During Thanksgiving, we should fill our youth with dreams of how they could be, and how America could be. America’s great blessings should unite its people across all dividing lines. America could be the most peaceful and influential nation on earth. America realizes moments of peace and unity especially during times of great tragedy such as 9-11.
Did you read the email that made the rounds the week of September 11th? It was called “What a difference a day makes.” It is a good reminder:
On Monday, we e-mailed jokes. On Tuesday, we did not.
On Monday, we were fussing about prayer in school.
On Tuesday, we would have been hard pressed to find a school where someone was not praying.
On Monday, heroes were athletes. On Tuesday, we relearned who heroes are.
On Monday, there were people trying to separate us by race, sex, color, and creed.
On Tuesday, we were all holding hands.
On Monday, we were irritated that our rebate checks had not arrived.
On Tuesday, we gave money away gladly to people we had never met.
On Monday, we were upset that we had to wait five minutes in a fast food line.
On Tuesday, we stood in line for three to five hours to give blood for the dying.
On Monday, we argued with our kids to clean up their rooms.
On Tuesday, we couldn’t get home fast enough to hug our kids.
On Monday, we went to work as usual.
On Tuesday, we went to work, but some of us didn’t come home.
On Monday, we had families. On Tuesday, we had orphans.
On Monday, September 10, life felt routine. On Tuesday, September 11, it did not.
We know what a difference one horrific day can make for our nation. Our hope is what helped us recover from such a national tragedy. Do you recall President Bush’s Thanksgiving address that mentioned the heritage of hope in the aftermath of those attacks? He said that “Americans always have reason to hope…despite great adversity.” He mentioned the sacrifices the Pilgrims made in the year 1621. He cited George Washington’s 1777 army at Valley Forge . He also mentioned Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation that made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Lincoln saw a nation divided but thanked God for the opportunity to strive toward the goals of justice and liberation. Those were national goals that each American could embrace and be pulled into a new future. That proclamation solidified the tradition of Thanksgiving that we can never forget. Looking ahead with hope is part of our national fabric. We look ahead to a future and are hopeful and thankful for what is to come. Our country’s optimism of thanksgiving seals our nation’s spirit.
Thanksgiving should be a time of awe, recognizing staggering sacrifices made, and for brave dreams — still unfulfilled — of liberty and justice for all. This Thanksgiving, as you gather around your table, full of so many good things, to count your blessings– and to remember not only the good gifts that God has granted you throughout this year, but to realize that you have been entrusted with a holy cause to look toward the future with a living hope. May each blessing that you count release two things into this world, a gift that somehow blesses another person, and a dream to courageously leave complacency and reach toward a brighter future. Amen.