Thanksgiving, Hope and Resilience

If you want to be resilient, be thankful. And if you want to be thankful, be hopeful. That might be the message of the American Thanksgiving Day.

You can see the connection between resilience and thanksgiving in our national history. From the story of the pilgrims at Plymouth to Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation, Americans seem to give thanks best when things are at their worst.

The connection between thanksgiving and perseverance are visible in the Biblical story as well. From the days of the first Passover Seder to the last supper of Jesus, from the possessing of Canaan to the tribulations of the messiah, God’s people have known that faith calls us to give thanks in times of adversity as well as in times of ease.

If you want to be resilient, then, give thanks. But how can you tell people to be thankful? Isn’t thankfulness an emotion? Isn’t it the case that one either feels thankful or doesn’t?

Spontaneous thankfulness is wonderful, but thankfulness is an act of the will as much as it is act of the heart. If you want to feel thankful, give thanks. Actions and beliefs affect your feelings.

Earlier generations of Christians said that it is our duty to give thanks to God. To give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), Christians may need to take a realistic inventory of their lives and name those things that are truly good.

To “count your blessings” is a worn out cliché with a good bit of truth. Instead of counting your blessings, though, I suggest naming your blessings. It’s not a contest to see who has the most. Numbers don’t matter much at all. If it’s the right blessing, maybe one is all you need.

To name your blessings is to look at life with a realistic perspective. Naming your blessings doesn’t require you to take a saccharine outlook on life or proclaim with Dr. Pangloss, “This is the best of all possible worlds.” But neither does it allow you to wallow in “woe is me, all is lost” thinking.

To name your blessings, I suggest your inventory look in three different directions:

  • Look around, and see the good in the world right now. Perhaps the most obvious place to look.
  • Look back, and see the good things that have happened in the past and the people who have been a blessing.
  • Look forward to the future in hope.

Most of us get stuck in the now. No matter how good the past might have been or the future might be, if today sucks, that pretty much colors my entire perspective. Sometimes we need to look beyond the problems of today. I give thanks for yesterday’s blessings that have strengthened me for today’s battles.

Perhaps the hardest part of the inventory process is looking to the future. How are your hopes surviving and growing, even in difficult circumstances? How are you able to draw strength from you dreams and aspirations? Faith and hope working together may be the most powerful source of thanksgiving

The pilgrims of 1620 gave thanks because their little experiment in holy living still had a heart beat. Their dream of a shining city on a hill was still alive.

President Lincoln, in 1863, gave thanks because it was still possible for this nation conceived in liberty to have a new birth of freedom. The American experiment in government of the people, by the people and for the people had not perished from the earth. (Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address just two weeks before his proclaimed Thanksgiving)

To give thanks for what lies ahead, you have to have some notion of where you think God is going. What is life’s purpose? What is your mission? How does all that fit in with God’s purposes for the world? For what are you hoping, in the deepest sense of the word “hope”?

When you get some sense of life’s purpose and direction, you can give thanks even in the hardest times because you recognize that the journey continues.

If you want to be resilient, be thankful. Name your blessings and keep hope alive.