Most of the time columns written about the Thanksgiving holiday are written to either make you feel grateful for what you have or make you feel bad that you have anything at all.
Writers try to make you see that your life is not as bad as it could be. This approach comes off sounding a lot like your mother trying to get you to eat vegetables. “At least we have beets on our table,” she says, “I’ll bet the kids in Godawfulstan wish they had beets.” That whole line of reasoning is a mom-trick designed to make you ask for a second helping of vegetables.
It’s the same kind of sermonic reasoning we read each year in columns that urge us to remember those less fortunate. The essays remind me of the minister who was attempting to roust his sleeping congregation from their rock-hard pews by asking, “How many of you would rather be here in our church this morning than in the best prison in all of America?”
The problem with that perspective is that thankfulness has never been about comparing your good fortune to the misfortunes of others. Thanksgiving will never be about trying to equalize the imbalance of those fortunes — some will always have more than others, and others will always have more than some.
Thanksgiving isn’t just about being thankful you don’t have a loved one deployed to a war-torn country: It’s also about being thankful we have brave service members who are willing to serve when their country calls.
Thanksgiving isn’t just about being glad you weren’t in the Twin Towers; it’s also about being thankful the United States raised up brave men and women who showed a readiness to go into those burning towers.
Thanksgiving isn’t just about being grateful you aren’t poor; it is also about being grateful you have resources to give to the poor. It is not only about being grateful you aren’t hungry; it is also about sharing your gratitude with the hungry.
Thanksgiving is not about comparing what you have with what others do not have – just to make you feel better about the beat-up Dodge you’re driving. It is not about being glad your home is not a shanty cardboard shack under the freeway; it’s about the help we give the homeless as we humbly realize that most of us are one paycheck away from building our own shack.
Thanksgiving is not about giving thanks for what you have, where you work, where you live or even who you are. In fact, Thanksgiving is not about you at all.
Thanksgiving is about keeping perspective – not the kind of perspective that contrasts how blessed you are compared with others, but perspective between recognizing the blessings we’ve received and utilizing our capacity to return those blessings to others.
At the end of the calorie-laden day, I’m sure that no amount of perspective will ever persuade me to eat my mother’s Thanksgiving Day beets, however perspective will be a constant reminder that we are not alone on this planet. It is the perspective that teaches us that we’ve all journeyed from the same place and, as scripture suggests, “to dust we will return.” That is the perspective from which humility comes, and humility will always be about thankfulness.