Note to readers:
If you met my friend Susan Sparks, you’d immediately note our similarities. We have both written a syndicated spirituality column and we are both Baptist pastors.
However, as a trial lawyer-turned-stand-up-comedian-and-Baptist-minister, she speaks in a unique voice. And that’s why I’ve asked her to pen this guest column for us as we prepare our homes for Thanksgiving. Enjoy.
The Holiday is Pronounced THANKSgiving by Susan Sparks
It’s hard for me to believe that New York City (where I now live) is part of the same country as North Carolina (where I was born). Everything is different: food, clothing, the pace at which people walk and the accents. Oh, the accents.
I don’t mean any disrespect, but New York accents are just wrong—meaning they fall in the wrong place.
For example, in the south the object one holds over one’s head in a rainstorm is pronounced, “UM-brella.” New Yorkers talk about some foreign object called an “um-BREL-la.”
The southern word for the flat screen on your wall that allows you to binge on Netflix is “TEE-vee.” New Yorkers use some alien multi-syllable conglomeration of “television.”
Some may see this to be a meaningless linguistic tussle. However, when you consider the word describing this week’s national holiday, you realize that there is more at stake than you may think.
Unlike New Yorkers who say, “ThanksGIVING,” Southerners call this holiday “THANKS-giving.” Why? Because that’s what the holiday is about. THANKS. Not giving.
The thanks must come first because you can’t truly give FROM the heart, unless you have gratitude IN your heart. It’s as 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “God loves a cheerful giver.”
This is an important lesson as we begin this holiday season. While loving, joyful giving should be the focus of the coming weeks, giving usually turns into an exhausting act of duty. Like the conviction that you have to make two potato dishes—sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes—for the holiday dinner. Or the belief that you must fight the Black Friday crowds to get a generic scarf and mitten set for a great aunt twice-removed because she sent you a Whitman’s Sampler.
This is not joyful giving. This is giving cause you gotta. And this type of giving rarely produces anything heartfelt. What it does produce is heartburn. It also generates stress, resentment and, the worse of all things, the martyr syndrome.
To break from this pattern, we must put the emphasis on the “THANKS”—in the word for the holiday and in our lives. And the best way to do that is to ask yourself the following question:
What is good in my life?
When you focus on what you have, even if it’s the tiniest of things, you begin to feel gratitude. Then slowly, you start to see past the angst and realize that you are surrounded by blessings.
Maybe you woke up feeling physically stronger than usual. If so, find someone who needs physical help crossing the street or carrying groceries.
Perhaps you have a plant blooming in your house. Take a photo and send it to someone whose heart is not blooming.
Or maybe you are one of the lucky people with the biggest of blessings: a job. (And please understand, I didn’t say a job you love. I mean a J-O-B with a C-H-E-C-K.) If that’s your blessing, then remember those who don’t have a job this holiday. Volunteer to serve a meal or maybe pay for someone’s .
In the coming week, as you make your multiple potato dishes and shop in the Black Friday chaos, raise thanks for what is good in your life, then share that blessing with joy. Give with a grateful, not grudging, heart.
Put the emphasis where it belongs. And remember, as we do in the South, that the holiday is pronounced THANKSgiving!
Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. The author of Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines, Susan is a nationally known speaker on the healing power of humor. Contact her through her email at [email protected], or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.