For some, this Thanksgiving – like last year — is a more difficult occasion than previous ones. Perhaps a loved one has died from COVID-19, or you feel isolated from relatives and friends due to lockdowns, quarantines, travel restrictions, vaccinations (or not), masks and “distancing” and might think you have little to celebrate or be thankful for.

You might be struggling over what to do with an errant child or grandchild who ought to be thankful for what has been done for him or her but is headed down the wrong road. How can you be thankful for that? Because their lives are not over and there is the possibility they will “come to their senses” and be thankful then.

Are you surprised and possibly a little irritated when you thank someone for something and instead of saying “you’re welcome,” the person on the receiving end of your thanks says, “no problem”? When did “no problem” become the default response for expressed gratitude?

What we regard as the first Thanksgiving was recorded in 1621 after the Pilgrims’ first harvest. Despite their many challenges, including colleagues and family members who had died on the treacherous journey from England and others who had succumbed to disease after their arrival in the New World, these adventurous explorers still thanked God for their survival and for the religious freedoms they believed were now theirs. Gratitude should be a model for us, who are many times more blessed.

Many know the phrase “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” but possibly not its origin. It is from Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. What did He mean? Just that. At Thanksgiving we are supposed to be thankful for what we have received. Those who make a practice of giving to others, especially people in need, know what He meant about the greater blessing that comes from giving.

We hear from politicians and ads on TV saying we are entitled to certain benefits and deserve them. The focus is on receiving, not giving. There is little gratitude that comes from receiving what one deserves. Much happiness can come from giving, especially to others who cannot reciprocate. The rewards last far longer than overeating at the Thanksgiving table. Giving might take the form of something material, like food, or help with a rent payment, or it could be something as simple as a phone call or note telling someone you are thinking about them and how much they matter. Try it. People want to feel they matter.

When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day celebration in 1863, the nation was torn apart by the Civil War. In spite, or perhaps because of that tragedy, Lincoln ended his proclamation: “And I recommend to (the American people) that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

That seems to be as relevant today as it was then as we are currently torn apart by a social and political “civil war.” Still, let’s give thanks for what we have and demonstrate our gratitude by giving to others.

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