Thirty-three years ago, I married my ruddy, ruggedly handsome knight-on-the-white- horse husband, Jim. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving as Mr. and Mrs. at a little restaurant in San Francisco where we honeymooned. Since 1979, we've treasured the Thanksgiving holiday with our herd of kids and grandkids. Making pies, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, munching on our hybrid Chex Mix (don't ask me for the recipe--it's top secret), and savoring the delectable aroma of roasting turkey over the cacophony of joyful voices characterizes our family's Turkey Day festivities. The absence of these precious traditions causes great consternation. Can you relate?
Like millions of college students, recent college grads and newly married peeps living far from the Thanksgiving comforts of home, you're undoubtedly homesick. And don't even mention joy or gratitude, right? With exams, endless research papers, studio recitals and juries, revamping the resume, interviews, work and, did I mention the in-laws, who's got time or energy for gratitude? Certainly not you.
Giving thanks in the rag-tag ruckus of your own brand of crazy busyness is non-negotiable if you're a Christ follower. Paul's directive to the church at Thessalonica rings loud and clear: "Be thankful in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." (1 Thess. 5:18 NLT) Paraphrased with brevity: God wills that we be thankful, always. Hmmm, no squishiness there.
Jesus set the standard for giving thanks. "He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples..." (Luke 22:19 NLT) According to New York Times bestselling author Ann Voskamp, "He gave thanks" reads eucharisteo in the Greek. In her book One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp points out the etymology of this lyrical Greek word. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning grace, while the derivative is chara, meaning joy. Jesus took the bread, saw it as grace and gave thanks. Joy is found at the table of thanksgiving, says Voskamp.
What if you don't know how to be thankful, content, or joyful? Read Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have...I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little." (4:11-12 NLT) Learned is an action word, a verb. I can learn to live fully, I can learn to be thankful, I can learn how to be grateful and happy with hands full or empty. That's hope!
More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving evokes memories of home and family pressed down, shaken together and running out all over. No matter your circumstances, savor the sweet aroma of those memories. Gather your own crowd of voices and together offer thanks with hands full or empty.