The Other Side of Thanksgiving

1870 Thanksgiving

It is customary, usually as a prelude to carving up the sacrificial bird of Thanksgiving, to take time to reflect on our blessings–blessings of family, friends, substance, the goodness of life, the grace of God. This is right to do. What I want to reflect on is what happens on the other side of that meal, which in so many ways is contradictory to the spirit of Thanksgiving, and the corresponding quality of contentment, that rejoices in life as it is and our possessions as they are. Contentment essentially seems to say, I’m thankful that I have enough and don’t need a little more.

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Actually, it often begins with the meal itself. It is one thing to be thankful that we have food and are not hungry. It is another to stuff ourselves more fully than the bird on our table! This is one with which I struggle. I am a bit like Simon, my son and daughter-in-law’s beagle, who basically will eat until he explodes. Perhaps this year, I can simply eat to the point where I am not hungry, where I’ve enjoyed something of everything without reaching that state of bloated uncomfortability.

We also give thanks for the family and friends in our lives. Being content with them is another matter! We often would like to make them a bit more “the way we want them”. And herein is the grief of many Thanksgiving gatherings! Why do we not simply let each other be who they are with all their endearing and sometimes annoying foibles? Truth is, we won’t change them and to try only changes the mood–for the worse.

Another area of thanksgiving is our material blessings. For many of us, we have so many of these we are constantly having garage sales and down-sizing and clearing out! What then is it that compels us to acquire even more? This year, we can’t even wait until “black Friday” as more and more of our stores stay open or open late on Thanksgiving day. True, some of this is early Christmas shopping–gifts for others who in most cases also have more than enough! I realize that at least some of this can be genuine expression of affection for people we really care for and sometimes it can be fun to choose gifts that we think will be just right for the person for whom we care. Yet much of this seems fueled by the sense that “more is better” and “we want more” as the children in one recent commercial argued. Instead of being content with what we have, to say that what we have is enough and more, “enough” becomes “more than we have”.

Why is contentment so hard? Why is it that thanksgiving is often little more than a passing sentiment soon forgotten in our dissatisfaction with life as it is? Is our discontent really with our food, friends, and stuff? Or is it an inner discontent–the longing of restless hearts? And where do we go to find rest and contentment for the restless heart? Augustine in The Confessions wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” And so I would close this reflection with the prayer that you might truly enjoy thanksgiving with contentment and rest of heart today!