Thanksgiving: Gratitude, Stewardship, and President Lincoln
Tomorrow our nation will observe the Thanksgiving holiday. This is a time set aside and reserved for family, friends, and a grateful spirit of reflection. This year brings with it for many, a time of deceleration following an incredibly heated election season. In a day when some regrettably see our nation as being more divided than it ever has been, it is easy for us to lose within the fray the blessings of today in an alluringly nostalgic dream of years past. We easily slip into dreams of the days when we were a close knit nation of peoples who valued the greater things in life. These seemingly uncertain times provoke us to long for the days when we, the proud and free, were a nation driven by the convictions of God and country. A time when men worked well, and as a result we lived with sweat on our brow and an enduring spirit of gratitude. A nobler time. The greater times.
In times such as these we find great wisdom in reflection on the reality of those days. But perhaps if we were to consider the words of the great Abraham Lincoln during the most divided time in our nation’s history, we might draw a certain helpful clarity of our current situation. Certainly the days of Lincoln, and the year in which this Thanksgiving holiday was instituted, boasted a culture far superior to ours in gratitude. Certainly a time in which men suffered such loss, they knew how to value the things that truly mattered most. Perhaps they can show us the way back. Of that generation the 16th President had this to say on a proclaimed “National Fast Day” in 1863:
"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!" (Basler p.156)
If I had not told you immediately preceding, it may have been difficult to convince you that this was not a more current appraisal of America. It would seem that according to Mr. Lincoln, that for all of our incredibly pristine nostalgic renderings of a greater time from which we have fallen as a nation, we are not so different from they as we suppose. It has been said, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same”. In short, all men have within them the propensity to trend towards ingratitude. Even a cursory read of the Old Testament will cement this reality with astonishing accuracy. In the 28th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy as God announces a judgment against the children of Israel we find part of their condemnation to be ingratitude. The Lord declares in verses 47-48 “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you… ”
All men, but especially we who love to fancy ourselves as products of the American dream; we who have pulled ourselves up ‘by our own bootstraps’ must do battle with ingratitude. I have never more understood this reality until my personal work in the mission field of Kenya. Anyone who has ever spent substantial time in a 3rd-world country will know that your greatest challenge will not be the certain culture shock upon your arrival. It won’t even be in your adjusting to life there. Your biggest challenge will be the underpinnings of your worldview being shaken beneath you as you try to reconcile the poverty you have encountered with the sometimes egregious waste and ingratitude of your own making back home a world away. If you are not careful, a perspective altering life experience in the 3rd-world can spawn a great amount of bitterness and unrest within you. You must guard against this by coming to the realization that it is no one who was born into a less fortunate circumstance’s fault that they entered the world there. Likewise it is not your fault that you were born here in this land of the free, to be afforded all of the ridiculous concessions and blessings that we now enjoy. What will be our fault though, is if we allow them to go to waste. Real gratitude, real thankfulness is about faithful stewardship.
We have not pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We have not, as they vainly imagined in 1863 reaped the benefits of our own superior wisdom and virtue. We have been blessed in innumerable ways by the mighty God who made us. As you observe this Thanksgiving holiday with your family and loved ones, remember that the ultimate call of the gratitude which the occasion should inspire is faithful stewardship of each moment and blessing. Enjoy the bounty set before you on the table, but let there be a spirit of gratitude within you for the time amongst loved ones, a land where you are free to pursue your convictions of God and country, and enjoy the reality that the greater times will be the ones you create with what God has already given you.
Basler, Roy P. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln; volume 6: 1862-1863. Norwalk, CT: Easton, 1993. Print.