In 1621, the settlers who colonized the eastern coast of North America and the native Wampanoag people came together to share food and friendship, and to express gratitude to God for His provision and protection. This gathering is widely acknowledged as the first recorded Thanksgiving among the English speaking settlers. The tradition caught on and similar celebrations were held in the American colonies, and then states, for more than 200 years following. But it wasn’t until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day holiday to be held in November across the country.
If you know anything about significant historical dates, you’ll realize that this first official National Day of Thanks was instituted right in the middle of the Civil War (1861-1865). At the time, the country was far from experiencing a time of blessing, peace, and prosperity. Instead, it was being torn apart from within, reeling from bloodshed and unimaginable loss of life and property that left people stewing in bitter resentment and anger. Doesn’t it seem strange that this unlikely time in history is the seedbed for a tradition that is now synonymous with family and fellowship? A time when we’re encouraged to put aside our petty and superficial differences to sit around a common table and share not only an abundance of food, but an abundance of love?
There’s no way Lincoln couldn’t have known that when his proclamation was made, the brutal war between the states would grind on for another two years, racking up between 650,000 and 850,000 casualties, or that he himself would be the most famous victim of the conflict. But at the same time, he also couldn’t have anticipated the great country that would eventually soar like a Phoenix from the rubble of so much destruction.
Perhaps we can learn something from this visionary president from the past. Maybe true Thanksgiving is not so much about being grateful for what we possess, but about trusting God for what we cannot yet see. And today, even when our future may be more uncertain than in recent years, perhaps it’s time for believers in Jesus to look beyond what our eyes tell us and deliberately choose to be grateful for what is promised before we actually experience the provision.
Complaining, grumbling and fear are the natural enemies of faith and trust in the provision of our Creator and if left to work, they, like a poison in our hearts, will rob us of the joy that God offers to us in the present moment (whatever that moment may look like). But these corrosive impulses have a spiritual antidote, and that is thankfulness! So if you are facing the coming holiday with what seems like a plate full of only loss, regret or emptiness, look beyond where you are right now and place your faith in God. Lift your voice in praise, not because of what you hold in your hand, but because of His steadfast promise to always transform ashes in to that which is eternally beautiful. (Is. 61:3)