Make thanksgiving an everyday habit
Colquitt United Methodist Church's altar, designed by Peggy Chambers, is decorated for Thanksgiving.
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks, express gratitude, and reflect on God’s blessings.
One day, though, doesn’t seem enough for all God has bestowed upon His creation. While Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, thanking God is a spiritual discipline that should not be limited to a single day. How, then, can believers practice the art of thanksgiving more regularly, making it a lifestyle more than a yearly remembrance?
“The word ‘thanksgiving’ speaks to my need to live as one with a spirit of gratitude,” said Army Chaplain (Colonel) Matt Woodbery, U.S. Army, and a member of the South Georgia Conference. “I give thanks because something has been given to me worthy of thankfulness.”
Both the season and word cause Chaplain Woodbery to take inventory of all that he’s thankful for: his life and health, the lives and health of his family and friends, for the abundance he sees all around and that he shares in simply as a result of his birth, and for the hope that is found in – and often, in spite of – that abundance.
“(Thankgiving) also reminds me to consider the source of such unspeakable and unmeasurable abundance,” Chaplain Woodbery said. “I give thanks not merely for the sake of thanksgiving or out of a sense of obedience alone; I give thanks to a grace-filled Creator and Redeemer God who first loved me.”
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul in Thessalonians. John Wesley, in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, wrote, “Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it.” Giving thanks is as essential to our spiritual growth as prayer, which 1 Thessalonians calls us to do continually.
Throughout the month of November, people often take to social media to share messages of thankfulness by posting photos and posts including hashtags like #gratitude and #thankful. Many also participate in the 30 Days of Gratitude or similar challenges, sharing one thing they’re grateful for each day.
“Daily attention to thinking about those things in our lives for which we are grateful is known to decrease depression and anxiety,” said Rev. Deborah Wight-Knight, Conference Pastoral Counselor. “I am thankful that God created our brains as such resilient organs; particularly around the holidays.”
Several studies link gratitude and well-being and also attribute thankfulness with healthier relationships. An article published in the Harvard Mental Health Letter cites research that shows that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Another article in Psychology Today gives seven helpful and easy gratitude techniques research says help alleviate depression.
Rev. Wright Culpepper, executive director of FaithWorks in Brunswick, is reminded every day that he has much to be thankful for.
“In my work with the sick and the poor, I have been challenged by the faith and determination of those who face great challenges and by those who have very little more than the clothes on their backs,” he said. “Yet, I hear from them over and over again that ‘God’s got me.’”
Believers can cultivate an attitude of gratitude that will extend beyond Thanksgiving Day by living generously, loving extravagantly, and following the perfect example in Christ, said Chaplain Woodbery.
1 John 4:19, which says, “We love because he first loved us,” is a good reminder that thankfulness and gratitude are fitting responses to the love shown by Christ.
“Living a life of gratitude is a matter of character, a matter of living a life of faith with integrity and consistency,” he said. “Thankful living must permeate all my life.”