There are some moments when it is easy to feel immensely grateful.
For me, I think of the day, four years ago, when my son Brad Jr. was born. Or when I realized that my little sister’s bone marrow transplant was successful. Or the feeling of freedom that came from being out on a boat, without armor on for the first time after coming home from serving in Iraq. These big blessings become defining moments that shape our lives. It is natural to feel overwhelmed with giving thanks during these times.
Other times, we are simply grateful for the small things – a visit from an old friend, or gathering family members all around the same table to share a meal. These may not be life-changing moments, or even particularly noteworthy ones, but they provide joy in their simplicity.
And then there are times when it takes a little more effort to be grateful. Maybe it is a lost job or the failing health or death of a loved one. Maybe it is a son or daughter, or mother or father, deployed overseas, whose chair will be empty during the holidays this year.
On one of my drives from Cincinnati to Washington for the D.C. workweek, I found myself reflecting on the fact that we as a nation pass through different moments in time too. I think back to 1789, when President George Washington issued a proclamation for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. He called on the American people to acknowledge “with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”
Often, we look back at that time in our country and imagine it as being a celebratory period for our fledging nation. After all, we had just won independence from the most powerful nation in the world at that time and the Constitution had finally been signed. In reality, though, it was a rocky season for the young United States of America.
There was widespread disagreement and division over how to run our new government. Families across the country were still living in the shadow of war. Some were trying to re-establish businesses or scratch out a living to provide for their households. Daily life was tough.
Yet, despite the uncertainty, George Washington chose to call the nation to gratitude. He cited specific reasons for Americans to give thanks, including:
“For the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His providence…in the course and conclusion of the late war – for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;
for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness;
for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed;
the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;
And in general for all the great and various favors which He hath pleased to confer upon us.”
Today, many Americans may feel like it takes a bit more effort to be grateful this year. There is deep frustration on both sides of the aisle at the state of our politically divided government.
The frenzy of a 24-hour-news-cycle that thrives on this division doesn’t help. Tensions are deep. Emotions run high. Big challenges remain on the table to be tackled. But through it all, we can freely and humbly give thanks for all that we do have.
We should take heart from George Washington’s words. We are a nation that has lived through the shadows of war, and come through stronger. We are a nation that, despite our political differences, continues to conduct a peaceful transition of power every four years. We are a nation that remains the most powerful force for freedom the world has ever known.
This week, let us remember that Thanksgiving is not only a holiday – it is an action word. It is a choice. No one can force us to find gratitude.
It must come from within. Here in America, we enjoy an abundance of blessings every day that are the direct results of the sacrifices of those that have gone before.
We will continue to face challenges ahead. But let’s never forget how much we have to be grateful for, no matter the season we face.