This is the weekend when we in Canada celebrate “Thanksgiving,” a holiday with religious origins that has evolved into a turkey-eating frenzy.
In the lead-up to and throughout the weekend, people will offer each other a greeting of “Happy Thanksgiving.”
I have come to wonder, though: Do we mean what we say, or are we just saying the words? Is this something that we say from rote, and overlook the meaning behind what we are saying?
I find that, generally speaking, too many people forget to be thankful.
Have you been at work, in a coffee shop, or wherever and talking with others… and found that you offer more complaint than praise?
Yeah, me too.
It’s easy to complain… and some would say we have a lot to complain about:
- the government (all three levels)
- our jobs
- the weather
- the PUC
It’s easy to complain. But are our complaints justified?
We really need to remind ourselves of all the things for which we should be thankful… and these do not have to be big things.
Sometimes it’s the little things that really matter, and it’s the little things that we also so easily overlook. I know that certainly is the case for me.
Especially when things don’t seem to be going my way — which, in and of itself might be the problem… wanting things to go my way — I find it more likely that I will find things to complain about, when that happens.
At the time, all I seem to focus on is the negative… what went wrong, why something didn’t work out, etc.
It is later, when I’m over my disappointment and look back on things, and really give thought to my situation that I realize that even though I have been through some tough times, I have a lot to be thankful for.
I look back on some of the tough times in my life, times that filled me with doubt… with anger… times that left me bereft and despondent.
- my mother’s death.
- my father’s death, 10 weeks later.
- my grandmother’s death the following year.
It was easy to be confused, or angry, or depressed… and sometimes I felt all those emotions and more all at the same time.
And yet, while I won’t deny that there were long stretches of negative emotions, I was able to recognize the many things for which I should be — and was — thankful.
Certainly I wasn’t thankful for the loss I had experienced, but I came to recognize I was thankful for the time I had with my family, and all they had done for me. I came to recognize that I had become the man I was in large part through their influence.
Since that time, twenty years ago, I’ve had both good times and bad…
- I got married.
- I got divorced.
- I’ve found jobs.
- I’ve lost jobs.
There have been smaller things that have happened, both good and bad.
And as I mentioned earlier, it is easy to recall the disappointments… like jobs I have interviewed for but did not get.
Still, I remain thankful, for I know that things could always be much worse.
And that’s a way of thinking I find that is lacking these days.
Too often I hear or read comments from people who seem only to criticize others — other people, City Council, the government… whatever.
Sure, there are valid complaints, but I have trouble believing that there aren’t any reasons to offer praise, as well.
Perhaps we haven’t looked far enough afield in making comparisons to our own situation?
This morning, as I was driving to Thessalon to lead the worship service at Zion United Church, I was listening to CBC radio.
The news reminded me that there are millions of people living in war- and strife-torn regions who have had to flee their homes to find safety, including almost half a million from Syria.We need to remind ourselves that we should be thankful that we live in nearly absolute safety and security, without fear of being shot in the street, or arrested and thrown in prison merely for expressing our disagreement with the government.
Millions of people in India and Japan are taking shelter from approaching Typhoons (hurricanes).We should be thankful that, even when severe weather or natural disasters strike, we are reasonably well-prepared, and our governments and other agencies are able to respond immediately to provide rescue and remediation.
On Sunday Edition, host Michael Enright was speaking with Dr. Julie Jacobson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who was discussing Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) — mostly parasitic or bacterial infections which are rarely fatal, but which render victims incapacitated and unable to participate in the local economy.
For these victims, this may mean not being able to work in their small market garden, from which they would have earned enough money to pay school fees for their children.We must be thankful for the excellent sanitation systems: water that is fit to drink, cook with, and bathe in, and that this water comes directly into our homes; wastewater that is contained and treated, virtually eliminating outbreaks of disease.
We must also be thankful for one of the world's best healthcare systems.
I also hear and read comments from people who complain about immigrants coming to Canada, “forcing” their traditions and beliefs on us, and “taking our jobs” (you know, the ones we don’t want).Instead of complaining, we should be thankful that we live in a country that people from around the world recognize for its strong economy and high standard of living, a county that people want to come to.
Even in our churches, we find a lot to complain about? We look around and see all the empty pews and complain that fewer people are attending church these days? We remind ourselves how big and busy our Sunday Schools were at one time, and complain that so few children come to church now?
And this applies to other groups — service clubs, for instance, who also are seeing declining involvement, and are struggling to fulfill their mandates.
When we make these complaints, aren’t we over looking something?
Aren’t we forgetting to be thankful for the people — adults and children — who ARE coming to church, who ARE members of service clubs.
It’s easy to be negative, but we need to remind ourselves to be thankful, too.
And being thankful, we should do what we can to help others who might be less fortunate than ourselves.
I know that there is a shift away from church attendance, and for the first time in people’s memories there are more people who do not regularly attend church than those who do.
Whether one is a believer or not, whether one attends church or not, the Bible has some wisdom to offer us.
There is a passage in 2 Corinthians that reminds us that “God loves a cheerful giver.”
At first glance, this can seem somewhat trite — that while we are giving away a portion of what we have we should paste a smile on our faces and be happy.
But, that’s not quite what this passage is telling us.
It starts with the suggestion that those who are stingy when planting their crops — perhaps hoping to save some seed for the following year — will not enjoy a bountiful harvest.
It goes on to talk about giving to charity, suggesting that this giving should be thoughtful and deliberate; giving thought to our own situation and giving as we are able to help others.
This passage tells us that we shall not lose out by giving away a portion of what we have; just as a seed is cast to the ground and buried, it will later spring up and bear fruit.
Our generosity in giving will be rewarded in ways that we cannot perhaps imagine at the time. By helping others, by lifting them up and helping them look after their own needs, we help to create a stronger, more caring society.
We are advised to be thankful for all that we have, and to express our thankfulness through giving — cheerfully.
For some of us, “giving” doesn’t necessarily mean giving money. It could mean giving your time and talents, helping others in some way, in whatever way we are able.
Some people knit caps and booties for premature infants. Others grow market gardens and donate the food to the Soup Kitchen, or to families in need.
There are many ways to help others.
Today, on my way home from Thessalon — driving through the backroads — I was listening to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe. Today was their annual Thanksgiving “Arthur Awards” episode, where Stuart acknowledges selected individuals who were nominated for their exceptional generosity or contributions to community life.
One winner was a women who emigrated here from South Africa, for whom our Thanksgiving traditions were initially confusing. She learned to embrace Thanksgiving, to the point where each years she invites strangers to her home to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with her family and friends.
When Stuart commented on what a wonderful thing this is, her response was, “It’s just the right thing to do, isn’t it?”
I don’t know how many of you are on Facebook. While it’s true, there is a lot of nonsense and, frankly, garbage, to be found on the internet in general, and Facebook in particular, there is also a lot of very uplifting posts, often in the form of memes — pictures and pithy sayings.
There are a number of longer posts that describe situations people have found themselves in, and how they managed to keep their spirits up and be thankful for the blessings in their lives.
These posts remind me that things aren’t always as bad as they seem.
While we have designated “Thanksgiving” as a holiday, to be celebrated each October, I believe it is appropriate that we treat every day as Thanksgiving day.
But… that’s just my opinion.