Each year, as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the thoughts of Christians all over the country turn inevitably towards cultivating a thankfulness mindset. Frequently, individuals and families will take on new practices throughout the month of November with this in mind, such as keeping gratitude journals or posting daily what they're thankful for online.
But this year, such practices may ring hollow. With poverty and hunger rates the highest they've been in decades, over 200,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, and heightened awareness of the genocidal roots of the Thanksgiving celebration, it may be incredibly difficult to muster up a genuine spirit of gratitude. Yet scripture is chock-full of directives to be thankful to God at all times and in all situations. So, what are we to do?
When the topic of thankfulness in the face of great pain is at hand, we must tell the truth about our experiences of that pain. The genocidal practices that the U.S. has perpetrated and continues to enact against Native/Indigenous people are real. The lives lost to the pandemic cannot be reclaimed, at least not until Christ's return. And all of the poverty, domestic violence, and other collateral damage incurred during the pandemic is likely to increase. This is all painful and scary. And God deserves the truth of how we're feeling about it.
If we are unable to cultivate thankfulness for one aspect of our lives, God does not ask us to lie about it and pretend to be fine. But we are called to exist in community, to share in one another’s burdens and loan one another our joy. This year, as we step into November and Advent shortly thereafter, I invite congregations and families to create thankfulness practices that 1) tell the truth, 2) widen our horizons, and 3) focus on how we can hold space for each other.
Some real-life examples of this might be:
- Building relationships with local Indigenous communities and learning how to help support them through the current crisis.
- Doing card showers and drive-by visits for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or are recovering themselves.
- Making thankfulness jars, garlands, or other hands-on gifts for grocery and pharmacy staff, delivery people, teachers, healthcare workers, and other front-line personnel, and engaging in similar hands-on projects to name fears or the things we're mourning.
- Engaging in community covenants where participants pledge to give genuine thanks to at least three people a day.
- Creating intergenerational text chains where congregation members of all ages can share joys, concerns, and prayers.
Your suggestions are welcomed in the comments as we continue to work together to give thanks and praise to the One whose mercy endures forever.