Let’s pretend we were doing a survey around town, asking random participants one simple question: “What are you thankful for?”
We’d get some answers like my family, job, health, home, church, and so on. There’d be some rhetorical replies, such as the unpredictable Ohio weather, Christmastime, THE Ohio State University, or the Bengals and Reds (not many have been giving thanks for either of those recently, though).
Some might wax philosophical with reflective responses, as in the hope of world peace, or the immense grandeur of the cosmos (whether you believe the universe evolved randomly from a massive explosion or was created by a Divine Designer, the cosmos is truly something to admire and be awestruck with).
I’ve had the opportunity to network some with folks who live in poverty, hunger and lack. The homeless, addicted, and mentally ill in our community would answer the question quite differently. We might hear retorts like, “life sucks”, “there’s nothin’ to be thankful about”, or “who the bleep are you?”. For this surprisingly large constituency around our community, the ongoing mindset is: “Me thankful? Seriously?”.
I heard a statistic on the radio last week that if we live in the United States, have a roof over our head and a meal to eat today, we rank in the top 6 percent of the world’s most affluent.
That’s amazing. We are so blessed. But it’s humbling to realize that right here in small town, rural, Midwest America we have many hundreds of down-and-outers who don’t always have shelter or adequate food.
I am so grateful for organizations like Sugartree Ministries that provides over 800 free hot meals each week to anyone who cares to stop in for supper, and area churches that budget funds for groceries to give away.
There is free emergency housing offered through the Clinton County Homeless Shelter, and drop-in sheltering through ministries like Hope House (for women) and Sugartree (for men).
Serving approximately 2,000 folks each Thanksgiving, the “Community Thanksgiving Dinner” hosted at Wendy’s and staffed by volunteers, has been an incredible outreach for many years now.
Nonetheless, even with all these options, there are folks who go hungry and sleep in the cold right here, each and every night. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be thankful when you’re shivering and famished.
Some may ask, isn’t this their own fault? I mean, if a person is willing to work, and stay out of trouble, they wouldn’t be in their mess, right? Well, yes, and no.
Though there are a few who take the initiative to improve, most of our wayfaring nomads literally choose to remain in the conditions they’re accustomed to.
They’re not willing to change or accept help, and often sabotage efforts made to rehabilitate them. Especially for those with addictions and/or mental illnesses, the fear of breaking free exceeds their status quo condition, and so nothing changes. Sad, but true.
However, this doesn’t mean the blame is solely theirs. Let me explain.
Some of us are born with the proverbial silver spoon in our mouths, others with a gilded shovel in their hands, and still others drag an iron weight shackled to their ankles. Nobody has a choice about their parentage, and each of us are born into conditions determined aside from our volition.
In my case, Mom and Dad were loving, conscientious, moral role models who taught me the value of honesty, humility and hard work. Though I wavered in my youth for a season, they inspired my return to the
integrity and gentle influence I observed in them. My parents modeled a life well lived. Not everyone can say that.
At the beginning of 2018, I was chosen to develop and launch an initiative known locally as DADz. Originally funded by a small seed grant from the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood, my assignment was to mentor men in the value of loving their children.
With referrals made from Job and Family Services, Clinton County Probate Court, the New Life Clinic, Solutions Community Counseling, and other organizations, I spent 18 months focused on helping men be better dads.
These primarily were guys behind on their child support, some dealing with drug addiction or alcohol abuse, others challenged with developmental disability or mental illness, and a few had felony records. And some were just regular dudes who didn’t know how to be a good father.
Get this: of the 39 DADz referrals worked to date, only one had a positive image of his father. That’s right — one.
These guys weren’t able to be good dads because nobody showed them how; no one modeled the love, esteem and value a child is supposed to get from their father.
Like iron weights, they carry the baggage of a negative father image. And I suspect their dads had the same issue with their dads. It’s like a curse cascading from one generation to the next; dominoes falling one upon another.
The cycle self-perpetuates, passing down from parents to their kids.
Giving thanks is a learned behavior that follows a generational pattern like this, too. My parents were thankful because my grandparents were thankful. I’m thankful because I learned the principle of gratitude from watching my parents and grandparents.
If I’d never been taught to humbly express appreciation, I could easily have adopted an impoverished, negative mindset steeped in jealousy, judgment, entitlement, and lack.
Saying “thank you” counteracts the cycle of discontentment. It really does. You won’t find many people of gratitude stuck in the muddy morass of negativity.
Where does God fit in to all of this? Let’s acknowledge that God’s love for us runs deep, regardless of our propensity for giving thanks. Being thankful is not a good work that will entice God to love us more, but it will expand our hearts to experience it more.
Gratitude is God’s plan for you. This is well stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Have you ever wondered what God’s will for you is? Here you go: be thankful.
Jesus modeled the very lifestyle of thanksgiving, which serves as an example for us. Jesus gave thanks before using a young boy’s sack lunch to feed the 5000 gathered for His hillside conference (John 6:11).
Out of deep compassion and sorrow, Jesus thanked God before fetching Lazarus’ dead carcass back to living with his bickering sisters (John 11:41).
And on Passover in the upper room, when first instituting the holy sacrament of communion at the Last Supper, Jesus “gave thanks” (Luke 22:17).
Do you want a happy life, regardless of the cards you’re dealt? Give thanks.
So, let me ask: What are you thankful for?
Next week, let’s talk some more about Thanksgiving, on our way towards Christmas, OK?
Dave Hinman is Pastoral Elder at Dove Church Wilmington. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.