Thanksgiving Day is the traditional American holiday when we are given the opportunity to pause from our normal routines and take time to count our blessings.
It can be a fun and refreshing time, full of family, feasts, and football.
For those who choose to acknowledge God as the Great Giver of all that is good in our lives, Thanksgiving Day can be a spiritually uplifting and enriching experience.
And for those whose lives have been upended by unforeseen tragedies, such as the loved ones of innocent people so tragically taken from them by ghastly crimes since our last Thanksgiving, as well as those whose hearts are heavy from grief, illness, loneliness, or financial stress, let us pray that Thanksgiving can help them understand that good is never totally conquered or permanently extinguished. May they feel the comforting touch of God’s “tender mercies” (Psalm 145:9 et al.).
To varying degrees, all of us grapple at times with the problem of whether the glass is half empty or half full in our lives. Thanksgiving helps draw our attention in the happier direction. When tempted to become depressed from news reports highlighting ugly incidents or hateful divisions in our society, we can console or even cheer ourselves by giving thanks for all the good that surrounds us.
Stop and think for a moment: The average American has a higher standard of living than all the European monarchs of the 19th and early 20th centuries. We can travel 70 miles per hour on smooth roads in climate-controlled comfort with access to our favorite music or, via our cell phones, the ability to instantly contact friends almost anywhere in the world. We can fly across country in a few hours. Queen Victoria never had it so good!
What about the threat of conflict? Indeed, war is always a sobering topic, but as we learned on 9/11, while it takes a long time to build grand and magnificent buildings, it only takes minutes to destroy them. That means that if humans warred with each other anywhere nearly as often as they peacefully cooperate with each other, the world would be covered with ruins. Instead, the very fact that the world has thousands and thousands of cities and towns, and that most of us live in comfortable, if modest, homes, is daily proof that human beings do indeed spend far more time living in peace than in war and engaged in constructive rather than destructive activity.
And since part of our Thanksgiving observance this Thursday will feature football as part of the cultural backdrop (Go, Lions!) let us hope that the spirit of Thanksgiving heals the discord that has resulted from some players protesting during the playing of the national anthem. Many people have sworn off professional football because of players’ actions, and I respect the principles of those patriotic Americans. As for me, I am more inclined to view the national anthem controversy as a teaching moment.
The players who have been protesting say they want a better America. Well, yes, who doesn’t? All of us, whatever our political orientation, want our country to live up more fully to our national ideals and aspirations. We don’t want to settle for the glass being only half full. And to those protesting players who give generously of their time to their communities, thank you!
There is, however, a lesson to be learned here: If we use the national anthem as an occasion to protest because something isn’t right yet, the protests will never end. That is because as long as fallible human beings are involved, perfect justice will elude us.
But the good news is this: As Americans, we already have the freedom to work for the better society and world we all desire. As my Pop would have said, “There aren’t any hooks in our backsides” keeping us from forging ahead and working for improvements. So, when our country’s national anthem is played, may all of us, players and fans, feel so much gratitude that we have the liberty to strive to make a difference that we are proud to stand and honor our flag during the playing of the national anthem. That is what we can all celebrate during the national anthem – not that we have solved all our country’s problems, but that our country provides us with the freedom to work toward those solutions.
Since Thanksgiving has its roots as a religious holiday, let me close by borrowing some wisdom from the book of Ecclesiastes and adapting the wording to the NFL/national anthem flap: “To every thing there is a season” (Eccl. 3:1) – a time for gratitude and a time for protest, a time for football and a time to work for a better America. And on this Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for our families, our freedom, our country, for our God and Savior, and for our earthly blessings, let those of us for whom our glass is more than half full – perhaps even to the extent that our “cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5) – go one step further. Let us remember those who are going through tough times as a result of cruel loss. May our prayers and actions give them a gentle assurance that they are not alone and that their future Thanksgivings will be brighter.