This is Thanksgiving Weekend, in Canada anyway. For a lot of years, I have been playing around with a thought related to Thanksgiving Day that sits just inside my conscious thought process, wondering what to do with it. Now and then, I move it forward and turn it over a bit but mostly, I let it sit there, hoping that it will either go away or some great insight will attach itself to the thought. Most of the time, it just sits there, refusing to go away and daring me to do something about it.
The thought goes something like this: In Canada and the US (and perhaps some other places as well), we have an officially mandated day to give thanks, a whole day set aside so that we can be thankful. But there are two (at least) problems that I see with having a specific day set aside to be thankful. First, many of us really don’t know what to be thankful for. And secondly, my subjective impression is that we in the Western world are notably unthankful people.
I think we are not overly thankful because as a culture, we are caught up in the sense of entitlement that is at the root of much of our western thinking. I don’t need to thank the salesperson at a store for helping me because they are just doing their job. As a salesperson, I don’t need to thank the person who buys something because that is just what is expected. Neither of us needs to thank service providers because they are supposed to provide service for us.
I expect certain things at certain times from certain people and organizations because they are my right. I want and therefore deserve whatever and since I want it and deserve it, it is up to whoever or whatever to make it happen. Giving thanks just doesn’t enter the picture–why give thanks for what is my right and my expectation?
Of course, I also have the right to complain loudly and vigorously when my expectations are not met. No matter what I expect, it should be–and if it isn’t, I can and should complain to anyone and everyone, even to the point of calling in the media who seem to love a good rant these days. If the tire store doesn’t sell the ebook I want, they should because I want it to be that way and so I can and should complain about their poor service.
Yes, I am aware that I am ranting–I live in the west so that is my right. Well, actually, I am supposed to be writing about giving thanks in a culture that has at one and the same time mandated a time to give thanks and which struggles to find enough thanks to fill a short prayer before eating too much.
It is hard to be thankful when we feel entitled. It is hard to express gratitude when we feel things must be because we want them. It is hard say thanks when we think the universe exists for us and our needs.
Bring thankful grows out of an attitude that what we have and what we are and what happens isn’t as predictable and as focused on us as we sometimes let ourselves think. Being thankful flourishes when we remember that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Gratitude grows when we remember that even the air we breathe has been created and given to us by something outside our control.
In short, we can be thankful only when we aren’t at the centre of the universe. As a person of faith, I take that a step further. We can be thankful only when we remember that God is at the centre of everything and that everything good and valuable and positive is a gift from him. All the pain and suffering comes from our selfish and self-centered desire to be the centre of the universe.
When God is at the centre, things work–and recognizing that is the source of all real thanksgiving. And when we can open ourselves to God and begin to really thank him, we are more able to be thankful for everything. We aren’t the centre of the universe and we aren’t entitled to all we think we are entitled to. And when we can begin to give thanks for that, we can be thankful for everything.
May the peace of God be with you.