Giving Thanks Is Better Together

I hope we recognize that this shared thanksgiving is one of our great privileges as the people of God.

In a secular society, Thanksgiving is widely perceived as an interfaith or even faith-optional holiday. But the Christian knows that gratitude is not merely contented mindfulness. True gratitude is directed at our God, the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). In expressions of thankfulness, we exalt him, proclaim his faithfulness, and confess that we have nothing apart from him. It’s especially fitting, then, that we should do this together.

 

The Warmth of Shared Thankfulness

Throughout my childhood, my favorite special event on our church’s calendar was the annual Thanksgiving service. My love for the event was not because of the pies—a groaning potluck table of apple, pumpkin, and chocolate cream with no one to count how many slices we children ate—or the merry fire blazing in the church fireplace. It wasn’t the chance to run unsupervised down the cold, dim, familiar back hallways with sugar-fueled friends. It wasn’t even the promise of a delayed school-night bedtime.

I loved it for that moment when we all pulled our avocado-green vinyl chairs into a ragged semi-circle around the piano, and my pastor-father said, “Who would like to start with a word of thanksgiving?” And, after a brief silence, someone would rise to her feet and say, “I am thankful for a new job this year that lets me pay the bills and gives me a chance to use my gifts.” Another would stand: “I’m thankful the Lord used this year’s chemo treatments to send my cancer into remission.” After that, people would rise—or, sometimes, speak falteringly from their seats—in rapid succession.

Even as a child, I treasured the privilege of hearing the stories of others’ lives. Every year, we would hear words of thanks for jobs and homes, for pastors and teachers, for physical healing and familial reconciliation, for power over sin and for the unmerited gift of salvation. There were always a few surprises from people who waited for this service to announce a pregnancy or a wedding engagement. There were always a few tears as we remembered faithful saints, gone this year to be with Jesus.

At the end of the evening, church members would replace the chairs and rake the fire’s embers into ash. We located our sticky, crumb-strewn pie plates. We plucked mittens from coat sleeves and tugged on stubborn boots. We hugged one another. We smiled. And we walked out into the cold, our hearts warmed with shared thankfulness.

Let Us Give Thanks

In recent years, thanksgiving has become a popular topic. Ann Voskamp’s book on cultivating a thankful heart has sold over a million copies. Many of my friends keep a private thanksgiving journal, a lifelong list of mercies both small and great. And a popular women’s magazine extolled the personal health benefits of gratitude. I am glad we are more aware of our need to give thanks, but I wonder if this individual focus on thankfulness neglects an important aspect of thanksgiving—something the Thanksgiving services of my childhood affirmed: thanksgiving is a communal event.

Thanksgiving is not simply a thank-you card, sealed in an envelope and intended only for the eyes of the divine addressee. Thanksgiving is an open, public declaration. Thanksgiving doesn’t just whisper. Thanksgiving shouts to everyone within earshot: “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man” (Ps. 66:5).

This month, many of us will have opportunity to give public thanks—in church services, around feast-laden family tables, and in conversations with our neighbors. We will be asked to recount something for which we are thankful. We will ask others in return. And I hope we recognize that this shared thanksgiving is one of our great privileges as the people of God.

Give Thanks to the God of Gods

In a secular society, Thanksgiving is widely perceived as an interfaith or even faith-optional holiday. But the Christian knows that gratitude is not merely contented mindfulness. True gratitude is directed at our God, the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). In expressions of thankfulness, we exalt him, proclaim his faithfulness, and confess that we have nothing apart from him. It’s especially fitting, then, that we should do this together.

Read More