Published 10:33 am Wednesday, November 27, 2013

There are some seasons when we feel immensely grateful, like when receiving a phone call from the doctor with news: “cancer free,” or hearing the announcement of new life. These blessings are obvious and big, and we feel overwhelmed with thanksgiving in these seasons. Then, there are some years where we are grateful for simple things, like having all the children home for the holidays or making a trip to visit an old friend. These are not glamorous things. Yet, they provide great joy in their simplicity. And then there are other years where it takes a little more effort to find that for which we are grateful, especially in the face of job loss, the deterioration of a relationship, or the failing health of a parent.

On one of my drives from Chesapeake to Washington, D.C. for the DC workweek, I found myself thinking of these seasons. Each of us has probably found ourselves in these times at one point or another. We encounter people every day – at the grocery store, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, at the carpool line at school – who are in varying seasons in their own lives. We, as a nation, find ourselves moving through seasons, too.

Right now, we are in a year where many Americans may feel that it takes a little more effort to express gratitude. There is a sense of frustration at the state of our politically divided government. People are too exhausted to turn on the news. Many are looking at smaller budgets for the holiday season.

In seasons where it is difficult to find gratitude, I find it helpful to look to the guiding words of others for inspiration. In 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. He called for this day to acknowledge, “with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”

The nation he addressed through this proclamation, by all accounts, lived in a season of exhaustion. We like to think of our nation at that time as being celebratory ­– we had won independence from England and the Constitution had finally been signed. But the nation still felt the shadow of a war. Families were still learning to exist in a new environment, many without much money. Some were trying to establish businesses to provide for their households. Daily life was hard.

Yet, in the midst of that shadow, George Washington offered these charges, calling out very specific things for which our nation could be grateful:

for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His providence… in the course and conclusion of the late war – for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;

– for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness;

– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed;

– the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;

– and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath pleased to confer upon us.

Today, I find George Washington’s proclamation encouraging. We have collectively lived through seasons of hardship, of shadows, of plenty and of celebration. Through it all, we have remained united and free from tyranny. We continue to see the peaceful transition of power. We still have the opportunity to rely on the powerful forces of freedom, courage, and sacrifice that determine the character and the course of our nation.

This week as a nation, we celebrate Thanksgiving. But more than a holiday, thanksgiving is a word of action. It is something we choose to do. No one forces us to find gratitude. It must come from within. America is remarkable for overcoming our challenges to make this nation stronger and better for future generations. We have been given abundant blessings, direct results of the sacrifices of those that have come before us. Our challenge is to continue to acknowledge that for which we are grateful, no matter the season we face.

U.S. Rep. RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is