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Reflections From History & Faith: Thanksgiving and Thanksliving

Contributed by Jeff Olson

As we approach Thanksgiving 2019, I wish to share some history and thoughts about this great American holiday – as it is again at least somewhat overshadowed by the early commercialization of Christmas.

The historic truths of Thanksgiving’s Christian origin and biblical foundation in America serve to remind us of God’s blessing on us as a people and of His Divine Providence over us as a nation. During the past four centuries this celebration has served to reinforce our spiritual moorings and our bonds within our homes, churches and communities, and it has been an integral part of our national identity. This special observance can today serve as much-needed common thread to help mend a society which has become torn and fragmented into a myriad of special interest groups through the lens of identity politics, class warfare, and multiculturalism. This decline in respect for those values and institutions which once united us as a people makes our celebrations of Thanksgiving that much more important if we hope to ever regain at least some of the cultural cohesiveness necessary for us to once again become one nation – one nation under God. In the words of President Abraham Lincoln: “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3: 24-25). Let’s take a brief look back.

After their arduous sixty-five day journey across the Atlantic Ocean “undertaken, for ye glorie of God and advancement of ye Christian faith and honour of our king and countrie,” the Pilgrims suffered through a harsh New England winter in which almost half of their families and friends died. They were soon befriended by members of the Wampanoag Tribe who taught the unprepared, naive colonists about fishing, planting and hunting. In early autumn 1621, after the Pilgrims had reaped a bountiful harvest and preserved enough food to allow them to survive the coming winter, they shared a three-day feast and prayer service with their Native American friends to celebrate the harvest and the transformation of their fortunes from the previous winter. This is traditionally considered the first Thanksgiving in America. History bears out that our Pilgrim Forefathers considered thanksgiving in a broader context, one in which they sought to live each and every day with a mindset and heart of thankfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

From looking back to our humble beginnings and in light of America today, maybe it’s time for each of us to stop for a moment, take stock of our lives, and re-align our priorities to a daily thankfulness of this life’s simple blessings which we too often take for granted: that first breath we draw after awakening each morning; that first aroma and sip of coffee which signifies the gift of a new day and gives us that extra oomph we need to get started; that job that we get tired of but which pays the bills; the striking fall colors which show us but a glimpse of God’s handiwork; that voice, smile and hug of a spouse, child, grandchild, or friend which we mistakenly assume will be there tomorrow – a day we are not guaranteed; and the opportunity and freedom to worship God and to make other choices in our lives.

Some years ago, in early-mid November, one of the elderly ladies of our church family gave us a sheet of paper with something written on it. She insisted that we read it soon, so I did. It was a unique reminder of how thanksgiving should be not just an annual event but a daily lifestyle – what she called thanksliving. That special lady’s name was Lillian Hart (1912-2008) and this is only but a small part of her tremendous legacy. As we prepare for Thanksgiving Day, perhaps it would do us good to reflect upon this important point and how it can make a difference in the the nature and depth of our celebration and in our lives throughout the year. I’ve kept that sheet of paper given to me so many years ago and I still read it, especially during this time of year.

So, during this special season and on that special day, may our thanks be given first and foremost to Almighty God. And then shall we acknowledge His providence, accept His salvation through Jesus Christ, and commit to His truth as our light and guide and transform Thanksgiving beyond just its temporal holiday status into an attitude and lifestyle that we live each and every day – THANKSLIVING. Thank you, Mrs. Hart!

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