Thanksgiving – Not Just a Day, but a Discipline

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and, as I said in my previous post, it comes to us in the midst of an unprecedented year that has forced us to deal with the COVID pandemic for the past nine months. So many things are different this year! Even the Macy’s Day Parade, which began in 1924 with massive crowds of people lining the 2.5-mile route in New York City, will be “virtual” this year, to be experienced as a TV-only celebration from the “safety” and comfort of home.

To be sure, these are strange and stressful times that have brought forth many challenges. Yet through it all, we must remember that our God remains upon His throne and is in complete control of everything . . . even those things that look like they are completely out of control.

And so, before we come to tomorrow, I want to encourage you to be truly thankful for a year that has been unlike any year we have ever experienced. My goal is to help us all remember that “Thanksgiving” is not simply a day of remembering God’s many blessings; rather, it is a discipline to be developed and lived each day of the year. Perhaps no one has said it better than the Dutch Catholic priest and professor, Dr. Henri Nouwen:

In the past I always thought of gratitude or thanksgiving as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can and should also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude or thanksgiving is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and all I have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

I think the challenge for most of us is that we believe we fully understand what giving thanks is all about: it is a feeling that we express when we are blessed by some good in life. Most of us have become so familiar with various “attitude of gratitude” sayings that we have never elevated thanksgiving to the level of a spiritual discipline, such as Bible-reading, prayer, or fasting, to name just a few. However, I submit to you that thanksgiving certainly is a spiritual discipline, one requiring our consistent, disciplined approach to cultivate and communicate it 365 days each year.  

Let me encourage you to take a few moments this Thanksgiving weekend to consider all that God has done for you throughout this strange and difficult year. Remember that everything happens for His glory and for our ultimate good, even those things that don’t feel “good” at the present time. Consider how God has been glorified through your life this year and what good He has given to you.

A great technique for making this a discipline is to write out each blessing. Take some time to consider the top ten blessings you have received as a gift of love from the hand of your Lord and write them down. Encourage your family members to join in with their own list. We have been doing this as a family for more than twenty years, and we make it a point to go back over our lists from time to time to help us remember all that God has done in our lives and to strengthen our discipline of thanksgiving.

In closing, here are three results you can expect from making thanksgiving a consistent spiritual discipline in your life:

  • It shifts your focus away from yourself and on to God and others.
  • It shifts your focus away from the busyness of life to the blessings of life.
  • It shifts your focus away from the negative, which can overwhelm us, to the positive.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

From the Boland family to yours: We wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!


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