A warm blanket of memory wraps around me when I think of Thanksgiving. I can’t think of it without savoring the sweet aromas, the different rhythms of the day, and the guests—or being a guest—at the table. The meal is the central event of the day, but the friendships and simple purpose of the day rumble underneath all the activity, football, cooking, and decorations. We gather for one simple reason: We are unbelievably blessed, and we are setting aside time to enjoy a celebration in order to somehow say “Thank you!”
At the Thanksgiving feast, we often go around the table and ask each person to verbalize something they are thankful for. It’s one of the most intergenerational moments in our entire year as everyone from the age of three to ninety-three thinks of something for which to be grateful. This expression of gratitude changes the atmosphere. It transforms a day off, a holiday, or a square on the calendar into a personal, lived experience. Remembering to be grateful—and expressing it—softens the spirit. It makes us reflect and think about things that have touched us. Gratitude reveals to others what has been most meaningful to us, and no one would know it unless we said it out loud.
I want to encourage your gratitude, not only on Thanksgiving gathered around a table weighted with good and delicious food.
I want to help us all go a bit deeper in our gratitude, making it a way of life and not only a spurt of joy on this upcoming holiday.
So, here are three layers or depths from which to launch your gratefulness every day. Use three helpful prepositions to express new realms of thanksgiving.
I am thankful FOR . . .
This is the quickest and most recognizable reason to be grateful. Just look around. Just think back a day, a week, or a year. We are surrounded by untold and uncountable tools, material wealth, health, freedom, provision, talents, friends, and family. We can remember some recent answers to prayer, a rescue from a tight spot, or the strong help from a friend.
We live in a universe where the orbits are still exactly as they should be to sustain life. God’s handiwork is on display everywhere we look and it evokes awe and gratitude. Every cell of our bodies is as unique and complex as New York City and reproduces itself by the trillions every day. We can see, hear, and touch. Our synapses are working to connect our senses with our brain. We have heard beautiful music, savored a dazzling sunset, or smelled the breakfast bacon. Our physical life is a wonder of new experiences and comforting routines.
We remember that kind word that lifted us from a dark place and the expertise that made child’s play out of a snarl of complexity. We had a breakthrough. We got a promotion. We made the Honor Roll or won the game. And, here we are greeting another turn of the calendar, alive and surrounded by lavish gifts.
Yes, there is so much to be thankful FOR. Gratitude changes the atmosphere when we remember what we've been given.
I am thankful TO . . .
So now, let’s go deeper. Deeper in the sense that I reveal more about myself and what moves my heart. I want to thank a person. This is the true spirit of the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were grateful to be alive and to have a harvest that would see them through the winter, but their primary affection was toward God himself. “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever” (see 1 Chronicles 16:34).
Gratitude really changes the atmosphere when I express it TO someone. When I look someone in the eye, write them a letter, or announce across the Thanksgiving table, “I am thankful for you,” something changes between us. This makes gratitude a shared experience and discloses my feelings of warmth toward another person that wouldn’t have been known without this expression. This bonds us together.
Sadly, even though it is right and good to give thanks FOR so many things we enjoy as blessings, this long list of things can obscure giving thanks TO God himself, or TO another person who has been used by him to bless us.
Gratitude goes to a deeper level when it takes the form of praise to Jesus or thanksgiving to the Father. It also reaches new, memorable depths when we are expressly grateful for a blessing delivered through the grace of another person.
I am thankful BECAUSE . . .
This element of thanksgiving could seem prideful and self-centered if it were not for the good fruit it yields. Gratitude FOR many things and gratitude TO other people changes the atmosphere around me. Gratitude BECAUSE of God’s good gifts takes me deeper still. It changes my internal environment. This is gratitude for something that is happening in me.
The awareness and practice of gratitude not only changes the atmosphere around me, but it also changes the atmosphere within me.
When I realize that this outflow of thankfulness is changing me, I am thankful BECAUSE “He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion” (see Philippians 1:6).
Living in an atmosphere of gratitude removes the nagging anxieties of scarcity, loneliness, or inadequacy. I become aware of the supply—the fountain of encouragement—that the Lord is sending every day. I am thankful BECAUSE I am being changed myself. I am being drawn deeper into his love and thus more able to spill it out to others. God is keeping his promise, little by little, to make me more conformed to his image. I am grateful that I am growing, maturing, and changing. I am thankful BECAUSE the Lord of the universe loves me.
This Thanksgiving, go deeper with your gratitude.
Yes, gratitude changes the atmosphere. Instantly, deeply, joyfully. This Thanksgiving, take time to write or reflect on these 3 depths of gratitude:
- I am thankful FOR . . .
- I am thankful TO . . .
- I am thankful BECAUSE . . .
Take the opportunity of a day that is named for the very activity we most need to be truly thankful on all levels.