A Philosophy Of Giving Thanks
If a tree falls in the woods, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?
That sort of question has caused many a college Freshman’s eyes to glaze over. Who cares? Yet, all of us are operating off of some philosophy – some way that we view the world. And the holiday we celebrate this weekend is living proof of that fact.
People spend Thanksgiving weekend in many different ways. For some, I’m sure your weekend will look like a Norman Rockwell painting complete with a rich Turkey at the center, and the erection of a Christmas tree in the background. For others, Thursday is simply the day you rest up before hitting the Black Friday sales that start just after midnight. (Have fun with that while I’m sleeping!) Still others look forward to stuffing themselves before laying down in the living room to watch the Detroit Lions play whoever they are playing – because they always play someone on Thanksgiving Day!
But what tends to hold us all together during this time of year is that we are all expressing thankfulness. #thankful starts to trend significantly upward on social media. And I’ll admit that I’m happy to join in. With all the negativity, complaints, and division in our world today, its great to spend at least one week a year collectively admitting that the glass is half-full.
Of course, being thankful has two sides to it. The first side is what we are good at this time of year – telling the world what we are thankful for. It could be a spouse, children, a new and exciting job, close friends, or just the fact that we are able to keep warm on a cold day. All of us are thankful for something. Still, to discover our respective philosophies of Thanksgiving, we have to ask another question that rarely gets asked even at this time of year – who or what are we thankful to?
How one answers that question defines everything else. For example, I’m deeply grateful for my wife, who has been by my side for more than 23 years. The question is, to whom should I aim this thankfulness? Obviously, much of my gratitude goes to my wife, but who gets the thanks for bringing us together? Similarly, to whom should I aim my thanks for my three children who have made my life infinitely richer?
My faith teaches me that above it all stands a God who created all things, and from whom comes every blessing. “Every good and perfect gift,” James tells us, “is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” An eternal, unchanging, benevolent Being is the ultimate source from which comes everything in my life that is good.
It is fitting that our calendar places the Christmas season just after Thanksgiving, because every good gift for which we express thanks originates from a God who gave the ultimate gift – His Son Jesus Christ. So as we finish the last of the pumpkin pie, let’s be thankful. But let’s make sure the Object of our thankfulness is not the gift, but the Giver.
Let’s keep being thankful for, but let’s also be thankful to.
Joel Rainey is Lead Pastor at Covenant Church and Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He and his family live in Shepherdstown.