For many Americans, 2011 has been a difficult year. The national unemployment rate continues to linger around 9 percent, the number of home foreclosures rose last month, the cost of food has increased across the globe and gas prices remain high. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it may be hard to find a reason to be thankful.
One of the more challenging directives in the Bible is found in the book of Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul says, “Rejoice always … give thanks in all circumstances.” Certainly this is easy to do in times of prosperity, but it can be an arduous task in trying economic times such as these.
Maintaining a mind-set of gratitude has benefits that extend beyond the spiritual. Experts agree being positive can reduce stress. Optimistic people also have a tendency to aim high and make the most of every situation; the result is their lives can be more fulfilling.
While it is unlikely that the economy will turn around soon, all that may be required to remain thankful is a change in perspective.
Seventeenth-century theologian Matthew Henry uttered this prayer after being robbed: “I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”
The Apostle Paul is not instructing us to suppress unpleasant emotions. Pain, sadness and suffering are real emotions that we will experience from time to time. The Scriptures even tell us that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. What Paul is encouraging is an inner joy and sense of contentment that recognizes that even in less than ideal conditions or when we are unhappy, we likely still have many reasons to be thankful.
We take a lot of things for granted. As tedious as the presidential election process is, and as much as there is to criticize on both sides of the aisle, I am grateful I live in a country that allows us to peacefully disagree. I’m thankful for the freedoms we enjoy as a result of living in a democratic nation, in particular freedom of speech and freedom to worship.
If you are employed, or if you have a place to call home, or if you have warm clothes to wear this winter, or if you’re not relying on your local food bank for your Thanksgiving meal, or if you’re in relatively good health, or if you have loved ones to spend the holidays with, you have a reason to be thankful.
Remembering the past also can stir up gratitude. If we recall times when things were better, we can give thanks and live with the hope that someday they will be again.
This Thanksgiving, let’s pause to give thanks for our many blessings, despite the challenging economic circumstances. If you’re reading this column, you’re alive. That’s another reason to give thanks.