As we move into the Fall, or Autumn time of the year, we start to see signs of the season changing. This season has traditionally been about harvest and bringing in a store of food for the Winter ahead. Its also been a season for thankfulness and gratitude. Why at this time do we highlight the need to exhibit gratitude? Why should we be grateful and what form should that gratitude take?
If we take a look at the blessings we have received, and as we recount those blessings, we in turn speak of how thankful we are for them. As I think about our agrarian history, that was a labor intensive time. People worked from sunup to sundown to plant, cultivate, and harvest the fields. That lifestyle was a hard life. It took everything one had to put food on the table, and to glean extra from those fields to supply the other needs a family would have.
I’m remembering a line from one of my favorite movies from my childhood, Shenandoah. It starred Jimmy Stewart as the patriarch of a Virginia farming family who were dead center in the Civil War erupting around them. He was determined to keep his family out of the conflict. He ruled with a firm hand, he spoke his mind and didn’t mince words. One particular scene in the movie has him sitting at the head of the family dinner table. Before they were to begin dinner, Stewart had the family pause for prayer. This is what he prayed…
“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s one of the most back-handed prayers I think I’ve ever heard. Stewart takes all the credit for every bit of what he has. I think sometimes, many of us fall in the same boat with him. We seem to think what we enjoy as our blessings are due to what we do. Yes, its true, we each are responsible for doing our part in life. The things we need, the things we desire, they are why we work long hours. We scrimp and save to get what we want.
Gratitude isn’t really about the “things” we have in this life though. Gratitude is a state of being. When we live a life of gratitude we are well aware of all we have, but we are also well aware that our life itself is a blessing. Our health is a blessing. Our opportunities are a blessing. Our abilities, our skills, our intellect, all of that is a blessing from God. Without any of that, it wouldn’t really matter how hard we worked, we wouldn’t succeed.
God has given us all of what is necessary for us to be successful. We employ those blessings in different ways. Make no mistake though, those blessings are at the root of all we are and all we have.
There are many who work long and hard, and have little to nothing to show for it. It may be the circumstance, it may be place and time, it may be because of origin, that some are unable to provide for themselves and their family. Its not our place to judge or make pronouncements. We tend to judge others over against ourselves. If we can work hard and make it, they should be able to as well. That’s the thinking that can creep into our hearts. That’s not an attitude of gratitude. That’s an arrogance and indifference.
The reason we are to be grateful stems from acknowledging God’s bounteous goodness in our lives. Realizing all we have, all we are, all we hope to be comes from God. Our gratitude can and should be expressed in many ways. We should freely give to our church, to community assistance programs, to those in need. We give from the resources we have as a way to give thanks. If we believe God is in each person, then when we give to the needs of others, we are giving back to God what we’ve been blessed with. We’ve received, and then we give.
As grateful people, we will find when we are really aware of our blessings, we desire to show it. We can show it how we treat others. We can show it in what we do for others. We can show it in how we address God. Not like the character in Shenandoah, but with a heart that says, “Lord I would have nothing without you. I would never have achieved anything, I would never have harvested anything, I would never have built anything, I would never have provided anything without you in my life. I am grateful. Give me the opportunity to show my gratefulness to you by sharing with those who have little or nothing.
Grateful people are gracious people, and grace-filled people. Its from a heart filled with gratitude that God can and does change the world around us. I hope and pray you and I will continue to be grateful people each and every day.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,