Now is the Time to Give Thanks

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Now is the Time to Give Thanks

As I waited impatiently at the red light in my pre-Thanksgiving rush from BJ’s to Safeway, the license plate on the minivan in front of me caught me up short. “GIVETHX,” it said. And it was a license plate, not a seasonal bumper sticker that could be removed and replaced with a bit of Christmas cheer next week. It was a permanent reminder to the driver and a permanent encouragement or possibly a permanent rebuke to everyone else. It was certainly a rebuke to me.

There I was with no trouble paying for the makings of a marvelous feast to be celebrated in a lovely home with dear friends in a prosperous and free country and… well, let’s face it, it’s hard to GIVETHX.

I suppose it’s cliché, but it’s worth saying again anyway: in a culture where we can have nearly everything we want right now, we develop a sense of entitlement that withers our thanks-giving reflex.

Take my trip to Safeway for example. They had Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, wild mushrooms, dried currants, and all the other slightly odd ingredients I needed except a jar of chestnuts. They don’t carry chestnuts.

They don’t carry chestnuts? What is wrong with these people? Don’t they know that I’m being inconvenienced by being force go to another supermarket? And if I’m inconvenienced, then… I’m inconvenienced.

Exactly. Somehow, even though my brain knows better, I seem emotionally attached to the idea that I’m entitled to find everything I’m looking for at Safeway. But that’s silly. I’m not entitled to that at all. And besides, I live in Northern Virginia. If Safeway doesn’t have chestnuts, then Giant, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods surely will and they are all nearby. The abundance that surrounds me is breathtaking.

But when I’m feeling entitled rather than grateful, I don’t notice and, worse yet, I have no room for thanksgiving. I’m merely getting what I am owed and how dare someone withhold it.

In some twisted way, I, a child of this culture, believe that Safeway owes me chestnuts (yes, I know that’s crazy and so do you). So rather than being grateful for all the good things they sell, I left mildly annoyed because they didn’t have my chestnuts. And my soul became just that much narrower as a result.

On the other hand, if I am entitled to nothing, then everything arrives as a gift for which I can be grateful. And gift is, of course, at the very center of the Christian faith since God owes us nothing — nothing in this world and nothing in the next.

In fact, it’s worse than that. God, who is wholly just, owes sinners and rebels (us) condemnation. We blithely mouth the truth that “Jesus took our place on the cross” without thinking about what we’re saying. But for the grace of God, our place is on the cross, justly condemned, justly rejected by God, and justly damned for eternity.

Once we understand that, get over ourselves, and stop arguing about it — the Christian Gospel is, after all, the great insult to our human striving, pride, and sense of accomplishment — it’s clear that thanksgiving is the essence of Christian living. We are entitled to nothing making everything we receive a gift.

And acknowledgement is how thanksgiving starts and with it, a joyful and generous spirit. As 19th-century preacher Henry Ward Beecher said, “The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!”

That kind of thankful heart doesn’t occur naturally (see Romans 1). It takes determined prayer and effort. But by grace we can turn small acts of thanksgiving into habits of thanksgiving that will become into a character of thanksgiving.

Our national Thanksgiving holiday is, as everyone knows, a bad day to start a diet and exercise program. But it’s the ideal day to begin to cut out our entitlement thinking and begin a vigorous, lifelong regimen of thanksgiving.

Now is the time to GIVETHX.

Publication date: November 21, 2012