It was 115 degrees outside, and I had joined a group of very hot Texans in a Dairy Queen to escape the blistering sun. As the lady at the table next to me slid into her seat with a plate looking something like our cover for this month, she sighed and muttered, "I am SO thankful that someone invented ice cream!" To a great extent, what most of us are the most thankful for is the thing that has met our most immediate perception of need. In hot weather, we are thankful for something cool. When we are sick, we are thankful for medicine that makes us well. When we are lost, we are thankful for whatever or whoever it is that finds us.
Why is it that we find fewer people observing Veteran's Day or Memorial Day as days in which we reflect on the sacrifices that made the United States a country and kept it free? Why is it that we find decreasing interest in most people with patriotic events or in government as a whole? One of the schools in the school system in which I teach decided to have a special voluntary program which was to be a time of thanksgiving for America and the privilege of being an American. A teacher friend of mine who attended told of looking around at the 25 or so students who attended and realizing that all of them spoke marginal English and had been in the country less than 10 years. Out of over 1,000 students, only those who had lived some where other than America seemed appreciative enough of the benefits of living in this country to publicly express that gratitude.
Our inability to express gratitude to our mates, our children, and our parents also is rooted in our inability to think beyond our immediate perceived need. So many times, we fail to see thankfulness expressed until death makes it impossible to express the appreciation to the person who most needed to hear it. Instead, the kind and appreciative words are spilled on friends or living relatives whose perception of their own personal need is to distance themselves from the situation.
The most inconsistent expression of thankfulness in our culture surely must be in our thankfulness to God. We have been told that there is no God and that we must solve our own problems because
there is no God to help us. Our scientific advancement has solved some of our perceived needs so we have assumed that, in time, science will satisfy all of our needs. Even those who claim to be Christians have, to a great extent, come to rely on science and technology to meet every need and to solve every problem! The remarkable advances in science reinforce our feeling of self-sufficiency on a daily basis, and thankfulness to God is either spoken as a ritualistic part of a public service or totally ignored. There are a number of ways that we can approach and attack this problem--both individually and collectively. Here are a few suggestions:
Science can only work with what scientists are given. It is the design of the cosmos, the nature of matter, the original blueprint of all things that enables science to function to improve things. Medicine works because of the design of the human body and the similar nature of plants and animals from which medicines are made. We are able to eat plants and animals because of the chemical similarities in their makeup. Electronic devices are possible because of properties of the 92 naturally occurring elements in nature. The ability of humans to be creative and to think and reason creatively to invent things to improve our way of life is a gift of God and a part of our unique creation in His image.
Man's science and technology have provided us with many creature comforts and some interesting and entertaining diversions. Most of these items have great potential for harm as well, and we could live very satisfactorily without virtually all of them. If you sit down and list the things that are most vital in your life and which you could not or would not want to live without, you see a very different type of list: real love, peace, faithfulness, friendship, trust, compassion, care, lack of fear, freedom from death, etc. Our preoccupation with physical things has caused us to become selfish, ungrateful, egotistical people--both in our dealings with each other and in our dealings with God. Even our lack of appreciation of our freedom is rooted in our obsession with and dependence upon physical things.
If each of us would take five minutes a day to think about all that we have been blessed with and another five minutes to tell someone else how much we appreciate them, the world would be changed. The beauty of the creation around us is a great starting point for nurturing such an attitude. Thinking of how loved ones have blessed us in the past is another way to build our capacity for thankful living. You cannot write notes to people telling them how they have blessed you and how much you appreciate them without being changed in a positive way. Just telling a hurting person you care will impact both of you, and thankful prayer to God stirs a deepening appreciation of all He has blessed you with. What are you thankful for? If that question was difficult to answer in any way, you have work to do. Above all, we should be thankful that this life is the worst that we will ever have to endure and that, as Christians, we have a beautiful hope for a great positive future of eternal life.
--John N. Clayton