"Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." (Psalm 103:1-2, KJV)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
We again are in the season of Thanksgiving. The displays in retail stores tell you that businesses again have skipped over this time of remembered blessings. Merchants have ushered in Christmas without giving thought to what the fourth Thursday of November means. Some major retailers even have decided to open their doors to shoppers for the first time ever on Thanksgiving Day! Need I ask in what direction we are headed with this kind of thinking?
If Thanksgiving is going to have any meaning in this culture of diminishing appreciation, we must acquire the attitude of gratitude.
We must come to recognize that every blessing is a gift from God, it requires a response, and how we respond to God’s gifts will shape our attitude. Unfortunately, some people think they simply can wait until this one day to express their thanks to God.
In the 17th century, the religious poet George Herbert wrote: "O Lord, thou hast given us much; give us this one thing more, a grateful heart."
Thanksgiving is more than a holiday declared by Congress in 1941. It is more than sentiment. It goes much deeper than reminiscing.
In purest form, true gratitude is the relationship between you and God.
Genuine thanksgiving is voluntary; no one can force anyone else to be grateful. It is neither one of the 10 Commandments, nor a mandatory law in any state. It is an elective in the great school of life.
But living with gratitude is intentional.
The Psalmist knew this. The passionate words of the 103rd Psalm convey to us that something mighty is happening in his life. He struggles with language to fully express how he feels to know he is redeemed! From deep within his being, he cries out to his soul to remember all God’s benefits! As he looks around, seeing that God has supplied all things needed, his praise and joy bubble to the surface.
When you get to a place where your thanksgiving exceeds expressions of appreciation or courtesy, then you are halfway toward achieving the attitude of gratitude. Fulfillment comes when you can rejoice in all circumstances — even when life isn’t going well.
The great failure in this season is our reluctance to bring into our thanksgiving the brokenness and pain that also are part of our journeys. When we gather around our Thanksgiving tables, what do we do with those things that cause us to despair? Do we leave them outside the door?
In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul says that, in everything, we should give thanks.
For myself, it’s not so easy to do that this Thanksgiving. I’ll tell you why.
On Sunday, May 19, as I prepared to go to church, my phone rang at a most unusual time. A family member was calling. My sister, unable to breathe, had been rushed to a hospital. I was told paramedics were attempting to revive her and that I would receive another call as soon as they arrived at the emergency room.
Minutes seemed like hours and, as I waited, I prayed out loud to God to spare her life. The second call came; my sister had been pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Less than 24 hours later, one of the most devastating tornadoes to touch down in Oklahoma cut a long path through the state’s center. More deadly tornadoes hit the metropolitan area as May ended. Thousands of families were displaced, hundreds of people suffered injuries, and two dozen lost their lives.
For the storm survivors and for me, the first Thanksgiving approaches since the tragedies of that month. How do we approach this time of remembered blessings? Do we try to put what occurred out of our minds and move on with our celebrations? Or do we acknowledge God’s presence in the midst of it? How can we live in the attitude of gratitude?
The only way I can answer is by telling you this:
In the wake of my sister’s death and in the aftermath of the destruction in Oklahoma, I have witnessed God’s grace, solace, healing, strength, and peace in so many, many ways. God has shown me that God shines light even in the darkest moments, gifting us with hope and the sacred promise that we are not alone.
For that, I am so thankful.