As a holiday, Thanksgiving is often treated as the redheaded stepchild that falls between Halloween and Christmas. And in the world of commercial sales, Thanksgiving is merely the preamble to the Christmas buying season.
The diminishing status of this truly American holiday has never been so obvious as it has amidst the backdrop of the last several years. The nation has been on a roller coaster of political upheaval, economic uncertainty and foreign turmoil, all while struggling with the trials of a global pandemic.
Our individual struggles, alongside the uncertain environment that surrounds us as a country, have brought out the very best and the very worst in us.
It’s human nature to offer Thanksgiving when things are good, but can we truly offer heartfelt thanks when our souls are contending with unkindness, hard-heartedness or even enmity?
A hopeful focus
True Thanksgiving produces a hopeful focus on the things in this world that can never be lost or taken away. Thanksgiving allows us to offer praise and adoration, especially to those we love.
The pain of the pandemic has been exacerbated by the mandated isolation as well as judgmental responses from both sides of the vaccine debate. Such responses have divided families and friends alike.
Our time on earth is short and often unpredictable. And it’s unfortunate that we have stubbornly aligned ourselves so vehemently to issues, that we’ve failed to lovingly understand the differing opinion of a friend or loved one.
We should treat other people as God sees us — made in his image. Offer these friends and love ones grace and mercy instead of more pain and alienation.
After all, how can thanks be given if resentment and bitterness rule our hearts? As humans we are good at packing away pain, hurt and resentment. We wrap them up neatly, tie them with a bow and store them deep in the recesses of our hearts.
The judgments and accusations we have either endured, inflicted or created to absolve us of pain or guilt are conveniently forgotten, leaving an infection in our souls. And unaddressed, such infection can leave us resentful and ultimately cripple or destroy our most personal relationships.
Forgiveness is the ultimate healing agent. In our nation, offering forgiveness can be perceived as a sign of weakness. But the ability to forgive is essential to our spiritual, emotional and mental health.
We have become a culture that is often unapologetically arrogant—above offering forgiveness. What we do not realize is that forgiveness is more about our own well-being than the person who has inflicted pain upon us.
The root word of forgive gives us a hint at what must take place so that we can freely give thanks. That’s precisely why forgiveness and giving thanks are intrinsically linked. Author C.S. Lewis argued that we must “forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.” Lewis writes: “if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than God himself.”
Our biggest struggle as humans is that we believe we know more than God. This sin has been at the epicenter of our wayward hearts since the beginning of mankind.
In the same way, we handle our guilt as if we are the ones who are in need of forgiveness, portraying ourselves as victims.
We will re-create or rationalize our guilt away, often deny guilt and in the most cowardly way we run away from our guilt. The thing is, we can never truly run away from it. If you truly want to experience Thanksgiving is it not just as important to consider our own wrongful actions as well as others’ actions towards us?
Can we actually forgive?
This highlights an even more difficult question: Are we willing to humbly acknowledge our pain and offer forgiveness to those who are undeserving and who are deeply indebted to us? In recent years, I have struggled with this, but I have learned that even if we never receive an apology or humble recognition for a debt, it is important to cancel it and stop ruminating about feelings of injustice or pain.
Forgiveness is more about forgetting about perfect justice and removing the shackles of pain for your own well-being. In recent months, I’ve consciously chosen to do this, and it has given me freedom and peace like I’ve never known before.
Forgiving brought joy
This has allowed me to give thanks in an everyday and momentary way. A heart no longer burdened by pain and resentment, can thrive with joy and hope for the future. And in time, the byproduct of forgiveness: an increase in our empathy.
Empathy is a uniquely human trait that requires daily maintenance and care as it is a quality the world does not always encourage.
“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but love cannot cease to will their removal,’’ Lewis wrote.
While forgiveness opens a door to Thanksgiving, it also negates the long held mantra of forgive and forget. This is not only the incorrect response, but perhaps it’s better to forgive and remember —- not hold a grudge, but to give us perspective.
Indeed, forgiving and remembering are equally essential ingredients needed to experience true Thanksgiving.
Gratitude differs from giving thanks
So consider Thanksgiving not only as a holiday, but a daily practice in our minds and hearts.