I love Thanksgiving. I love watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I love my grandmother’s chex mix. I love listening to John O’Hurley host the National Dog Show. I love Turkey. I love Thanksgiving naps. I love pie. I love more Turkey. I love more pie. I love watching the Cowboys play football. I love playing board games with family and laughing together. In fact, I love almost everything about Thanksgiving.
Okay. There are a few things I don’t particularly love about Thanksgiving. I hate Black Friday–especially, when it starts at 6pm Thursday. Before each Thanksgiving, my wife Aimee and I have to make the difficult choice about where to spend Thanksgiving, especially when saying “yes” to one means saying “no” to several others. I get teary thinking about how much I miss playing Monopoly with Aimee’s brother, Adam or engaging in deep philosophical discussions at the dinner table with my grandfather, Papi. One of the Thanksgiving traditions that causes me a lot of anxiety is the Thanksgiving prayer. I know. I’m a pastor. It comes with the territory, but it sometimes feels trite to list the things I’m thankful for, and I’m never sure I’ve quite captured the sentiments I want to convey. Part of that has to do with knowing that I’ve got a lot (maybe too much?) to be thankful for.
There’s always an amount of guilt that I feel when I begin to name what I’m thankful for. No matter how intentional or serious I want to be, there’s a part of me that is afraid I’ll sound like Joe Walsh singing “Life’s Been Good” because for all that I have, I know there are so many more who have not. Life has been good to me so far, and even as I type this, I feel like the wet blanket who’s sad because he has a lot to be thankful for. Does it sound insincere and pretentious? It feels insincere and pretentious.
The truth is, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude for who I am and for the life I have. I’m thankful for Aimee who could not be more supportive of who I am. I am thankful for my beautiful daughters who never cease to amaze me. I’m thankful for my mom and stepdad who made this year’s decision about where to go for Thanksgiving a lot easier by arranging for two sets of grandparents, my dad, stepmom and three step-sisters, and my brother and his girlfriend from New York to all go to her house for Thanksgiving this year. I’m thankful for family and friends, but especially for Aimee’s parents who bend over backwards to lend a hand when we need it. I’m thankful for colleagues who not only love and care for each other, but who challenge and inspire me. I’m thankful for a church home where my family learns and grows together. I’m thankful for my stepmom because I know she’s making my dad eat healthier so that he’ll be around longer. And the list goes on… I’m surrounded by a cloud of faithful, loving people, and words cannot describe the sense of gratitude I have for each one of them because they have made me who I am. I am a product of love spilled over.
It is precisely that feeling which leads me to believe that gratitude is more than just counting blessings. Gratitude is the foundation for our response to what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. And it’s not because we seek to repay God for what we have. It could never be repaid. And it’s not because we could ever do enough to merit God’s action and activity in our lives. It could never be earned. But, the overwhelming love of God that has spilled into my life leads me to believe that the only response is to love as I have been loved, give as I have received, and pour out what has been poured in.
I do this better on some days than others. There are some days when I get more caught up in what I lack than what I have, and on those days, I fall short. Thanksgiving helps me to refocus so that I can respond more faithfully to God’s love, but what I really hope is that I can learn to live every day with as much gratitude as I have on this day.