By Chaplain Robbie Miller
Would you agree that there’s within all of us a basic human impulse to give thanks, to express gratitude for the goodness of life? Admittedly some are better at this than others. But I’d like to believe that an attitude of gratitude is somewhere deep within us all.
Take the ancient Israelites. Psalm 107 describes four occasions for giving what they called a thank offering at the Jerusalem Temple: successfully passing through the desert, being released from prison, recovering from a serious illness, or surviving a storm while out at sea. But even if we haven’t passed through a desert or survived a storm at sea recently, don’t we still have reason to be thank-full, to give our thanks to God?
Think about the election we just came through. Regardless of how thankful you are for the results, consider that millions of Americans exercised their right to vote and peacefully chose our president for the next four years. That just doesn’t happen in many countries around the world. Or consider the warm safe room you slept in last night, the multiple options you had for breakfast this morning, and the fascinating college classes you will attend today. Those things just aren’t available to a vast majority of people on this planet.
So if I’ve persuaded you, or perhaps just reminded you that we have much to be thankful for, how then do we express our gratitude and give our thanks to God? We can of course give thanks in prayer as many do before meals each day. But I would suggest that the best way to give thanks, the best thanks-giving, is captured by singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer in her song, Holy As a Day Is Spent: “Holy is the place I stand; to give whatever small good I can.”
“To give whatever small good I can.” That may not seem too earth-shaking or profound. But if we perceive every small good we give each day as a little act of gratitude, as an unspoken thanks-giving to God, we might become more aware of them, begin to think differently about them, and even be more likely to give them.
Think about it! Every time you greet someone on the sidewalk instead of staring down at your phone – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you hold the door for a stranger – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you sit with a lonely student in the dining hall – that’s a thanksgiving! Every time you pick up that aluminum can or plastic bottle to recycle – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you help a classmate with their homework – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you stay up late with a troubled friend – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you challenge a bigoted comment – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you walk or bike instead of drive – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you buy a local apple that hasn’t been shipped halfway around the world – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you stand up for the dignity and rights of all people – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you say no to violence, retaliation and war – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you hammer a nail into a Habitat house – that’s a thanks-giving! Every time you walk to fight hunger or cancer or Alzheimer’s – that’s a thanks-giving! And every time you treat the check-out person at Wal-Mart like a real human being – that’s a thanks-giving!
I think the English reformer John Wesley summed up this approach to thanks-giving very well with his simple admonition to “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that God doesn’t appreciate other kinds of thanks-giving. But if loving our neighbor as ourselves is still near the top of what God wants us to be doing in this world (see Mark 12:28-31), then the next small good we give may just be the best thanks-giving of all!Tweet
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