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The Thanksgiving Thing

November 26, 2019

Any blogger (or preacher, or editorialist, or talk show host, or, well you get the picture) who doesn’t write or say something meaningful about Thanksgiving should lose their credentials. Or at least apologize. There’s just too much to say about Thanksgiving to not say anything. So here you go with mine.

In Colossians, 2:6-7, the Apostle Paul wrote, ” So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (NIV)

The last 3 words of this sentence are the ones I want to unpack a little. “Overflowing with thankfulness.”

A literal translation of this could be, “gushing with thanksgiving.” There’s an important requirement for anything overflowing or gushing. To do this, the vessel has to be more than full. There has to be so much of something it that there’s not room enough for it all. Simply full vessels don’t gush and overflow. They spill, but they don’t overflow.

King David wrote of this in his Psalm 23 masterpiece, “My cup overflows.” This was a picture of a cup being filled and filled, and then still being filled once the wine reached the top and began to flow out on the table. That’s what Paul was writing about in Colossians. Thanksgiving overflowing and getting out onto the table, and all over the place. To be full of thanksgiving is a beautiful thing, but it’s not the same thing as – and in my opinion, not as beautiful as – overflowing with thanksgiving. For thanksgiving to overflow in my life, I’ve got to be more than full of thanksgiving. I need to gush it.

OK. So how do I pull that off? Good question. I can tell you that not many people get to the overflow state in a snap. Nobody I know started there. Normal people start with just being full of thanksgiving. There are lots of ways to eventually get to overflowing with thanksgiving. They all start at the same point, though: learning to observe and reflect. I know, this is rocket science.

OBSERVE. The non-technical term for this is, “Pay attention.”

Most people think they pay attention more than they actually do. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is absolutely attentive at 100%, most people would like to think they’re at about 8. We may say, “Oh, well, I know I miss a lot.” But down deep, we’re thinking, “I’d say 8 is my conservative estimate. On most days, it’s got to be around 8.6, unless I’m sick or over-fatigued. Then it’s gonna go down to 6 or 7.”

A counselor friend gave me this sentence and told me to count the number of F’s in it: FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

How many F’s do you count in that sentence? Go ahead. Go back up and count them.

Most people get 3. What if I told you there’s actually 6? That’s right, SIX. Most people leave out the three times “OF” occurs in the sentence. The eyes see them, but the brain doesn’t. Still feel like you’re about an 8.6? I didn’t when my friend showed it to me. It took me three re-readings to see what I’d done.

Psychologists tell us that we only see what we’re looking for. Occasionally, we don’t even see what we’re looking for. In that little trick I just pulled on you, you might not have even seen what you had actually seen: 6 F’s. That’s just how our brains are designed by God. Generally, we’ll see what we’re looking for, though.

Many people – maybe even most people – aren’t as observant as they think they are. And one of the things most of us don’t observe are our blessings, because most of us are so busy trying to make ends meet and not disappoint the important people in our lives, we just don’t have time or energy to look for them. Which is why it’s a very good thing to have a day set aside every year to observe our blessings and give thanks for them. We all need an excuse to look for, to observe blessings.

So you start with observing, looking for blessings. Notice them. Identify them.

REFLECT. And then you reflect on them. That doesn’t mean to just nod in their direction and keep racing down the expressway at 75 MPH. Which is what lots of A-Type people are inclined to do. “Yep, that was great. Now keep moving!” It’s really hard to overflow with thanksgiving at 75 MPH. I won’t say impossible. I’ll just say I can’t do it.

I discovered this when I was in my 6-month recovery from my heart attack. For 6 months, I just didn’t go anywhere in a hurry. That wasn’t normal for me. Being a short person, I’d spent nearly my entire life walking faster to keep up with the tall guys. But when you’re not sure you can get through the parking lot from your car to the auditorium at church (about 100 feet) before they sing the last song, it makes you rethink your speed. My body made me take the speed back a few notches.

And during this recovery, the only demands or appointments I had on my formerly jammed calendar were for doctor’s visits. There was nothing to be in a hurry for. I went from working with no margin between appointments, to having nearly nothing but margin in my day. If I needed to be at the doctor’s at 10:00, it was no problem to leave at 9:20 for the 20-minute drive. I had nothing better to do with the time, and I was fine with taking it easy.

To make a long story short, I learned how not to hurry. And I liked it. It was far better for my heart, and far better for my soul. I still occasionally get jammed with too-short margins, but it’s nothing like it was. Not even close.

One of the things I learned from that recovery time is that when you’re in a hurry, it’s nearly impossible to be thankful. You have to slow down to be thankful. If I’m bustin it because I’m 5 minutes late to my next appointment, I guarantee I’m not thinking about my blessings. I’m thinking about the bozo doing 55 in a 65 speed zone, who’s making me late. Milk it or move it! But that’s just me.

To reflect takes time. It takes margin. Don’t try to do it in a hurry. Even if you’re pretty sure you can do it in a hurry. Slow down and see what happens in your less cluttered and hurried mind.

Thursday is a national holiday that was originally designed as a day to give thanks to our Creator for His blessings to us. George Washington set it as a national holiday in 1789, and Lincoln made it a federal holiday in 1863. Both men believed we, as a nation, owed God a debt of thanks for His goodness to us. Originally, American families slowed down from what we, today, would look at and think of as their grindingly slow lives to observe the day. Unfortunately, that sentiment and practice has begun to lose out to football, parades, extravagant feast prep and pre-Black Friday starting blocks. (Can you tell I could easily do a rant on this?… I won’t. Yer welcome.)

My challenge here is simple. Regardless of what the popular culture does with the 4th Thursday of November, why don’t you and your family use it as the entry-point for building a life of overflowing thanksgiving by observing God’s blessings and reflecting on them. Around the Thanksgiving dinner table would be one of the finest places I can think of to get started. Slow it down. Turn off the TV and tune into each other and God. Observe and reflect.

And if you do this, let me know what happens.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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