On Thursday this week, around tables laden with turkey and pie, +300 million Americans will make lists of thing they are thankful for. Now that's a very nice sentiment, but it is not thanksgiving.
Giving thanks has two components: We give thanks 1. to a person 2. for something.
Being grateful is an attitude, but thanksgiving is a verb; and it's meaningless without another person receiving it.
I can be grateful for my food, but that is not the same as thanking someone for farming it, for buying it, for cooking it. I can be grateful for my car, my clothes, my health but those are expressions of an attitude, a posture; they are not thanksgiving.
Besides being self evident we see this truth all over scripture:
Psalm 100:4-5 "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Psalm 118:29 "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever."
Ephesians 5:20 "Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
Revelation 11:17 "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.”
thanksgiving is a verb; and it's meaningless without another person receiving it
The attitude is, of course, important; it’s possible to give thanks without a grateful heart, that is a mere ceremony, a pretense. But the attitude alone is simply not enough, it’s like a man going down on one knee in front of his girlfriend, ring in hand, but never actually asking her to marry him.
“Well,” he says to himself, “I am feeling very ‘proposal', surely that is enough, surely she can see the proposal in my actions.” He could make a list of all the ‘proposal' things he was doing: "I’m dressed up, I’m smelling good, I’m buying dinner, I’m going down on one knee, I’m taking out this ring I bought…” It all is a little moot unless he actually asks her the question, “will you marry me?”
Thanksgiving is the same. Simply making a list of all that I’m grateful for is not thanksgiving. This is especially true when people are present who should be the objects of thanksgiving. Being grateful for the thanksgiving dinner without thanking mom for cooking it is, in my opinion, as rude as it is ironic.
Just as a vaccine does not have the potency of the virus so gratitude does not have the potency of thanksgiving. And the effect is the same; gratitude without thanksgiving actually builds up an immunity to real, organic giving of thanks. It’s quite possible for this beautiful holiday to have the inverse effect on our families, our communities, and our society. Maybe selfishness and entitlement are so prevalent, at least partly, because we’ve removed the verbal necessity and reduced thanksgiving to merely an attitude, and one we need only practice once a year.
Simply making a list of all that I’m grateful for is not thanksgiving
This holiday has the power to transform our nation, but only if we add back the active ingredient of actually giving thanks. This holiday could easily be a catalyst, making us grateful people again all year round; but only if we add the action back of actually giving thanks to someone, not just for something.
So here is a suggestion. this year, instead of making a list of all the things you’re grateful for, how about making a list of all those you’re grateful toward; and then finding them and actually thanking them.
If you did this you would quickly find that one day in the year is not nearly enough to do justice to the task, in fact you will find that 365 days a year are just the right number of days a year you need to be giving thanks optimally. It will transform your conversations, your relationships, your expectations, and your dreams.
You will also find that your focus moves very far from what you don’t have in your corner to who you do have in your corner. You will find that giving thanks lubricates all your relationships; it takes the edge off the frustrations you have (and the frustrations you cause). You will find joy again, joy you thought had long evaporated from your life. You will also find that real thanksgiving is very contagious; you could find that you start a thanksgiving movement in your family, your office, or your school.
Gratitude does not have the potency of thanksgiving
There is another crucial piece to person-to-person thanksgiving. When we practice the actual giving of thanks it doesn’t take long to figure out that there just are no human people to thank for the vast majority of things we have: Life, health, oxygen, time, friends, dogs, sunsets, coffee, stars, eyes, imagination… it’s an endless list. And so we give thanks to God for these things, as we are instructed to do and in the process we find that His gifts are indeed boundless and His provision plentiful.
In the process you may come across this thought: God cannot be something mankind invented just because we needed a personal object for our gratitude, because if there was no Creator God to whom I am grateful, where then did my ability for giving thanks come from?