We clasped our hands and bowed our heads before one of the six children seated around the table recited, “God is Great, God is Good, And we thank him for this food. Amen.” So began every Thanksgiving dinner in my childhood home. Sometimes, we said grace on a regular basis, but often it was a sporadic after-thought. Now, I give thanks throughout my days. So, at what point in my life did living with a thankful heart become deep-felt and natural? It certainly was not innate.
As an infant, I was probably like almost every other baby and cried when I needed food, changing, or attention in general. When satisfied, I most likely smiled or babbled happily. But there wasn’t a real sense of gratitude; it was an expectation that I’d be cared for. So, where did this thankfulness start?
When I was a toddler, my parents were probably busy teaching and re-teaching me how to say, “Thank you” when something was given to me. During the next phase of life, around ages 6-12, I was known as a very polite little girl, having learned to always say, “Please” and “Thank you.” I knew that my good manners were greatly appreciated and that they brought positive feedback. Then, during my self-centered, and sometimes surly, teenage years, I certainly don’t recall being truly thankful for ANY of the blessings in my life. We lived quite comfortably, with a home in suburban Northern New Jersey and a vacation home “down the shore” in South Jersey, multiple cars, and no real concerns, so I should have felt gratitude. Instead, I focused on my inner conflicting feelings.
No, I think it wasn’t until I was out in the world and saw people who were suffering that I started recognizing that I had it pretty good. I didn’t start out being thankful, but rather appreciating what I had. When I started experiencing some of my own bumps down life’s road was when I really recognized that God was actively in my life.
When I was in my mid-20’s, Jesse, a good friend, and I were out cross-country skiing, when we stopped to take photos of two other friends who were jumping their snowmachines out of a gravel pit near my home in rural Alaska. One of the machines veered off course and landed on Jesse, paralyzing his lower body. I resuscitated him and kept him as comfortable as I could until he was air-flighted out. That was one of the first times when I knew God was present. That Jesse was still alive may have also been one of the first times that I was deeply full of gratitude for God in my life. While we waited agonizing hours, days, weeks, and even months to know if Jesse would ever walk again, I felt a deep inner calm, knowing that God was guiding whatever the outcome might be.
And, surely, God was actively working in Jesse’s life. An auto mechanic when he was injured, Jesse became a neuro-biologist, and then spent his career working towards the goal of regeneration of neural tissue and also teaching medical students from his wheelchair or other “stand-up” devices that he invented. He also continued his work as part of national and international teams, finding ways to help paraplegics be more active (e.g. he invented a hand-powered ATV), as well as working on rights for handicapped people. I occasionally fight the guilt of it not having been me who was struck instead of him. But, when I offer thanks for not only sparing Jesse’s life, but leading him in helping others, I find peace in knowing that God has a bigger plan for all of us. In time, Jesse’s paralysis brought very good things to the world. When I give thanks to the Lord, I can see that my guilty feelings are about focusing on myself, not on Him.
Paul wrote to encourage the people of Colossae and said in Colossians 2:6-7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
When God’s guidance is followed, good is the ultimate result; perhaps not in my timeline or in the same way I plead for, but in His time and in His way.
Now, when we hold hands at the Thanksgiving table, my prayers have become much lengthier. I now fully appreciate that there is much for which to be thankful. God is absolutely Great! He is ever so Good! And, I am thankful for the abundance of blessings He bestows! To Him I say, thank you for my loving, devoted husband. Thanks for the diversity and depth of feelings I feel for friends and family. Thanks for the many comforts of my home. Thank you for my loving church family and inspiring pastor. And, when I notice people at the table shifting in their chairs, I end with, In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
I am overflowing with all the thankfulness I have in my heart! My challenge now is to keep my verbal prayers short. Thankfully, I can continue to praise God all I want in my head, disturbing no one else!
Psalm 100. For giving grateful praise.
1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Amen. Emily Rogers