Turkey. A basket overflowing with warm pan de sal. Mashed potatoes. Pumpkin pie. Ube ice cream. All served on Grandma’s familiar green “crazy daisy” patterned dishes.
Sleeping through sports games. Checking the forecast for signs of snow. Tossing fragrant clementine peels into the fireplace. All while layered in our comfiest plaid pajamas.
My fond memories of Thanksgiving the holiday overtake my interest in thanksgiving the virtue. I remember being confused the first time I came across the word thanksgiving in the Bible, uncapitalized and with no casseroles. “In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7). This passage in Philippians contextualizes thanksgiving as a discipline, an investment in one’s personal relationship with God through continual prayer.
Why should we be thankful?
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, after a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts, he admonished the church to “be thankful.” His instructions before that are already quite daunting, clear-cut convictions to put to death earthly struggles such as “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” along with “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” (Colossians 3:5, 8). Paul goes on to say that “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 12), ought to be part of our daily practice, that we ought to be “clothed” in these virtues. From my perspective, these introspective tasks are exhausting.
Sometimes our attempts to become more like Christ leave us feeling burned out. His perfection can seem so overwhelming that we’re tempted to abandon our efforts to become like him. Even when we recognize how lovely it would be to be clothed in goodness, our weariness sets in, we feel frustrated by our earthly surroundings, and we begin to doubt the difficult path set before us. As if all of that wasn’t challenging enough, Paul insisted that we must bear with and forgive one another as the Lord has already forgiven us, choosing Christ’s peace as the ruler of our hearts. If we are to forgive as Christ forgave us, then we are to forgive to the point of death (see v. 13, 14). And on top of that, we ought to be thankful?
What can we be thankful for?
For a start, imagine what it would be like to eliminate malice and slander and to pursue kindness and patience as Paul instructed. What would be the results of living with our minds on heavenly, holy, Christlike things rather than earthly, selfish things? Holy and dearly beloved, these are amazing gifts.
Our compassion can cultivate authentic relationships and engage us in mission amid the mundane routines of life. Kindness has the potential to spark exponential thoughtfulness and joy in an all-too-busy world. Humility is such a relief. As someone who struggles with anxiety, handing over my worries (and the pride that they are ultimately rooted in) to God is a blessed respite. Gentleness is an attribute that seems elusive. So often we are told to be strong or to be stronger. But do gentleness and strength have to be opposing traits? There is a power in those who have mastered gentleness as they speak truth with love. Then to combine gentleness with patience, what a victory that would be—to take the time to be tender not only with others, but with yourself. Patience can give us increased faith and endurance for the next difficult encounter.
The theme within these gifts is community. Our thankfulness often springs from doing life together with God and with his image bearers. It might even be said that in order to be thankful we must first establish the relational virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience through relationship with God and with others. Christ’s loving relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit can inspire us to live with his peace ruling in our hearts.
Paul admonished the Colossian church to set their hearts and their minds on things above, on Christlike things. Not just their hearts, not just their minds, but both. As a young Christian adult, I often struggle with the tension between acting with heartfelt compassion and mindful wisdom. Endeavoring to follow both my head and my heart seems like a contradiction. But let’s look at an example of Christ’s thankfulness and the reactions of the Christ followers who learned from him.
What did Christ’s thanksgiving look like?
Luke 9 records a time when Jesus’ disciples had returned from being sent to proclaim the kingdom of God, casting out demons, and curing diseases. Jesus and his disciples went to a remote town, yet they were followed there by a crowd of thousands. When it came to mealtime, the disciples were not able to gather enough food to feed the masses. But then Jesus took “the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (vv. 16, 17). Jesus gave thanks as part of the meal and as part of community, both the community of his close followers and the strangers who came to learn and be healed. After Jesus gave thanks, there was an abundance of food. Imagine the excitement of celebrations as groups of about 50 sat together, sharing bread and fish and amazement at the miracles they had seen and the truth they had heard side-by-side.
How does thanksgiving in action happen?
Thanksgiving happens in a city park with summer humidity faintly remedied by a breeze off the Hudson, plastic water guns from the bodega around the corner, pickup soccer with strangers and cousins, and a potluck of personalities and languages.
We can be thankful for the incredible community that practicing these admonitions brings. Especially in this time of year, we have the opportunity to nurture and collaborate in our expressions of thanksgiving. Not just in our November feast, but in each morning of praise and evening of prayer. We can be thankful for music that leads us to feel connected, “singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16) and thankful for the “one body” (Ephesians 4:4) we are called to. All the way from your silver-hair great-aunt with her prized apple pie recipe to the little ones with their hand-traced turkeys. Crazy as it sounds, we could even be thankful for the holiday traffic as families travel to be reunited around the table.
Dear brothers and sisters, the very act of coming together in fellowship can be an expression of our thanksgiving to honor God as the giver of every perfect gift. His Spirit is present with us in messy kitchens as we weave in between each other, stirring and peeling and tasting. Our meals can be shared around a table with people outside of our circle, again as an expression of thanksgiving. Jesus continually shared meals with outsiders. Consider that he actually went beyond just eating alongside them, choosing to sit in their homes despite their rejection by the religious elite.
When was the last time you chose to eat with someone uncomfortably different form you—on their own turf? God delights to see us gather, not just within the four walls where we worship him on the weekends, but in unfamiliar living rooms and backyards and favorite restaurants that host the Holy Spirit nonetheless.
Christ followers, we can choose to pursue shared gratitude as we praise God and thank him for his gifts in the presence of family and strangers that aren’t family—yet.
Ely Lozada is a Communications student at Cincinnati Christian University. She enjoys celebrating Thanksgiving with her family in both New York and Maryland.