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Thanksgiving: Humility, Gratitude, & Joy


This week many of us will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a huge spread of traditional food eaten with friends or family, a football game, and an all-night shopping spree to ring in Black Friday. For some, these traditions perfectly capture the essence of what this holiday is about: giving thanks for the gifts of good food, fun with friends and family, and enjoying favorite hobbies together.

But for others of us, Thanksgiving festivities can actually push us further away from feeling thankful for anything.  We get stressed out over meal preparations for foods we don’t really like. There’s tension navigating awkward conversation with family members that barely get along. Tempers soar when the wrong team gets the touchdown. Mingling with other late-night shoppers on the hunt for the best deals leaves us discouraged about the state of humanity.

And then there are those of us who don’t gather around a big pile of food, who don’t squeeze into a crowded home full of family and friends, who have no TV to watch the game on, no money to spend on even the greatest Black Friday deals. There’s just not much to celebrate about poverty and loneliness.

So how are any of us actually supposed to Give Thanks when there’s so much we don’t like?

I’d like to offer another way. No matter what we have or experience this Thursday, I think we all have what we need to practice gratitude, and reap the benefits of joy. We can celebrate Thanksgiving, with or without the food, the crowd of people, the games, or the shopping.

I have come to believe that the Christian life is a lifelong response to God’s goodness. It has much more to do with what we receive, than what we do, create, or accomplish. When we turn our attention to what we have been given, we find that we have actually been given a lot. As we begin to notice the gifts all around us, we find there are more and more everywhere we look. And when we follow the trail back to the beginning, we come to this stunning realization, in the words of St. Ignatius:

All is gift!  

This practice of seeing and giving thanks for our gifts both requires and fosters greater humility in us. In order to receive something, we have to recognize that we don’t have it to begin with! The more we practice and celebrate receiving, the more humility grows in us. And the more we realize that everything we have is given to us, the more freely, graciously, and generously we can move through life. It’s a much easier way to live!

But it is not only gratitude and humility that grow together, but joy grows with them as well. Who doesn’t feel joyful when you see a huge pile of presents in front of you? Joy is more the happiness that comes and goes with life’s ups and downs. It is a deep state of soul that colors our understanding of the world more than it is changed by the events of the world. Recognizing our gifts, receiving all as gift from our Good God, and expressing gratitude for these gifts makes room for joy to grow in us.

And when joy is fully grown, it takes up so much room in us that it cannot be dislodged. Not even by a noisy house or an empty house, beloved guests or irritable ones; not by too much food or too little food; our team winning or our team losing; shopping or no shopping.

This is what I hope for you. And this is why I invite you into the all-encompassing and life-giving practice of gratitude this Thanksgiving.

May you grow in humility and joy as you revel in the truth that all is gift!