Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Phi 4:11-13]
This year’s Thanksgiving observances were a little different for me. For the past couple of months I have been suffering from some pretty serious health problems. For several weeks I was unable to eat anything without it causing what I began to not-so-affectionately call “episodes” (All I will say is that each episode involved our family’s infamous green bowl and a long and sleepless night). With the care of my compassionate doctor and very patient wife, I think I am on the way to recovery (or at least to the point of being able to retire the green bowl for a while). I can still not eat what I used to, or how I used to (which both my doctor and my wife think is a good thing!), but I am able to enjoy food once again, surprisingly well for the smaller portions that are now my lot in life.
So this Thanksgiving all thoughts of gorging myself, or stuffing my gullet, or eating until my buttons popped were right out of the question (it wouldn’t take that much anyway), and instead I was reminded of how nice it is just to be able to eat again. To my mind, savouring what is in front of you, whether it is what you would have chosen for yourself or not, is a much better way of giving thanks than shoveling it down in a gluttonous free-for-all seeking only an excuse to undo your beleaguered belt. Such selfish and self-satisfying excesses are really the opposite of true thankfulness anyway. Real thankfulness must always go beyond the self.
To give thanks implies not only a thankfulness FOR something, but also TO someone. To simply enjoy something (even to excess) is not really to give thanks but simply to enjoy. No other person is involved, no reason for the enjoyment must be given. To be truly thankful is to look to someone else and the gift, the kindness, the sacrifice they have given. I can enjoy pumpkin pie, but I am thankful to my wife for going through the effort of offering it.
And that’s the remarkable thing about gifts – coming from someone else they are not always (usually) what we would have given ourselves, but often (usually) they end up being better! The gifts we receive tend to shape our lives more than what we do for ourselves. If it had been up to me I likely would have approached this Thanksgiving weekend like all the others before it, by overeating, and then snacking later on that evening. There would have been some passing thought to the gifts I have been granted, but probably only between thoughts of how to get more stuffing and gravy in an already protesting belly.
Would I have chosen months of suffering leading up to it? A restricted diet? … Would you? Of course not. But through it God has given me the gift of being able to see Thanksgiving from a less selfish side (though more gravy still would have been nice). Through it I was able to savour what has been given to me, rather than worrying about where my next mouthful would come from. Through it I was able to appreciate the Giver more than the gifts. Thinking once again about how much God had to swallow (Isaiah 25:6-9) so that I could enjoy all that I have in Christ. Through it I was able to not simply enjoy myself, but begin to understand true thankfulness. And for that I am truly Thankful!