A month of thanks

Published 11:38 am Saturday, November 1, 2014

by Andrew Book

When I think back on the holidays of my childhood, there was a sharp difference between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Both holidays were marked by eating too much. On Halloween, as the one day of the year where I could eat as much candy as I wanted, the overeating was always eating too much candy, which led to a several day long stomach ache as my body complained about the abuse. The overeating around Thanksgiving was usually a little healthier and involved turkey, mashed potatoes, fresh rolls, pie and more. However, the similarities between the two holidays ended there.

For me, as a child, Halloween was primary a selfish holiday. The costume was fun, but the main point of Halloween was to get as much candy as possible as quickly as possible.

I would go out trick-or-treating as early as I could, and stay out as late as my parents would let me. Then, my friends and I would spread out our loot and trade, getting rid of anything that was not a favorite to increase our supply of top candies. The year I lost interest in hoarding candy was the year I lost interest in Halloween all together.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, did not allow for any level of hoarding. We were privileged to have enough on our table that we were not going to run out of anything during the Thanksgiving meal. The leftovers would all end up in the same refrigerator (we might fight over them later, but that was for another day), so there was nothing to be gained by taking extras of my favorite dish. Thanksgiving was a time to enjoy the abundance we had in front of us instead of clamoring for more to hold on to for another day.

The way I experienced these two holidays as a child reflects two fundamentally different ways of living life. Are we in a race to see who can get and hold onto the most? Or, are we living life in such a way as to enjoy the good things we have in front of us? I think most of us would like to say that the later is true — we are enjoying the good things that we have rather than simply trying to acquire more, but enjoying and being thankful for what we have is truly a challenging art in our culture.

American culture today is saturated with advertisements arguing that what you have is not enough and contentment will come if you can just get that nicer car, newer phone, bigger house, etc, etc. Of course, each time you add to your possessions, there is always something else you do not yet have! The cycle is endless, and it never leads to contentment.

The other option is to turn off the advertisements and to tell them that instead of racing to get more, better and fancier stuff, you are going to be thankful for what you have. You are going to enjoy the warm sun on a cool fall day. You are going to celebrate the sound of kids playing and birds singing. You are going to be thankful for a car that runs rather than longing for a fancier one. You are going to celebrate that you have Enough and be thankful for that.

I expect you will discover, as you cultivate an attitude of thankfulness, that you are a much happier, more contented person. Thankfulness has the power to transform how we see the world and shape us into people who recognize that we have been blessed, rather than people who can only see those things we have not yet grasped. That, in short, is the difference between a thankful person and a covetous person: the thankful person is focused on all that they have already received. They enjoy it and give thanks for it. The covetous person is only interested in looking at what they have not taken a hold of, and all their energy is bent on grasping it. However, once it is attained, there will be something else to pursue!

As we begin the month of Thanksgiving, I want to challenge you to a month of Thankfulness. Every morning when you wake up write down five things you are thankful for. They can be big things or little things; it doesn’t matter — as long as you are giving thanks for them. Then, throughout your day, think about those five things. Enjoy them. Celebrate them. If you do this for the month of November, it will change you, and you will like the change!

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are beginning a new series this week titled “Anticipate.” Too often we don’t expect God to show up in our lives, and as a result we do not see God. When we fail to anticipate the kind of transformation that challenges like the Month of Thanks can do in us, we likely will not see it. On the other hand, when we look for God, expect God, anticipate God at work, then we have our eyes open to see the things God is doing around us. We would love to have you join us as we anticipate great things for what God will do in us in the month of November.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org