Giving thanks, even when you don’t feel like it

Published 6:22 am Friday, November 23, 2018


Life Matters

The details are murky, because only two firsthand accounts of the feast exist. What we do know is that those early pilgrims had experienced four very difficult years. Only 53 of the original 102 colonists had survived to join the table at that first thanksgiving celebration. But there they were, joined by some of the local Wampanoag tribe, who had instructed the colonists on how to plant maize and hunt native animals.

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A couple of years after that first thanksgiving, some of them were at another meal to celebrate, this time for the marriage of their leader, Governor William Bradford, to Alice Southworth. Before they dug in to a sumptuous meal, including, according to one account, “roasted venison … the best grapes … divers sorts of plums and nuts … six goats, about fifty hogs and pigs, also divers hens …” each guest was served an empty plate with only five kernels of corn, lest anyone should forget the former days of drought.

It’s easier to give thanks when a feast awaits you and the meager plate is only symbolic of harsher times now past. But when you are truly hungry and all you have is five kernels of corn, when the storms of life rage at your window, threatening to bang down the door and flood your house with agony, and when it seems like no rescue is in sight, that’s when it’s most difficult to give thanks.

But that’s when we need it the most.

I wish I had a magic bullet for this, like, “Just swallow that gratitude-pill and all will be well: one, two, three, down the hatch, and it’s done; you’re good to go.”

But I have no instant formula to take the pain away.

Because life doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes, like the pilgrims, it’s four years of misery before there’s any kind of harvest. And sometimes it’s longer than that, and sometimes, it’s never – at least this side of eternity.

All I know is, we have basically one of two choices: we can wallow waist deep in the yuk that life often is, stuck there forever – physically, mentally, and spiritually – giving what’s happened to us the power to define us.

Or, at some point, we can decide to look up.

The looking up is no guarantee of blue skies in the near or even distant future.

But it can color your perspective.

It has to do with you, and how you choose to live this one life you have to live.

In the midst of a prison — a stank, cold, nasty, stinky — Roman cell, the Apostle Paul reminded us of the importance of “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

Only by the grace of God is that possible. The only way forward I know of is, by God’s grace, to give thanks, for the simple things, like the smell of freshly brewed coffee, or the feel of a new book, the call or letter from someone who cares, the sunrise of a new day, or sunset at the finality of another one, or steaming water for a relaxing bath, and a bed to sleep in, with, ahhh, soft, warm covers.

And though we aren’t to give thanks for the bad stuff in and of itself, for God hates sin much more than we do, we can try to be grateful for the good within the bad, and if nothing else, give thanks that from the darkest pit of despair, we can look up, anticipating at least a glimmer of the Light, yes, the very hope of heaven, trusting God to stand our shaking knees on solid ground.

Those early pilgrims, many still grieving the loss of those who didn’t make it, could have easily pushed away what bounty they could enjoy that first thanksgiving, all in honor of their loved ones who weren’t there to enjoy it with them. And I would understand their having felt that way. But in the midst of the sadness, they chose thanksgiving.

Indeed, years later, Benjamin Franklin would surmise, “The Farmer thought that it would be more becoming the gratitude they owed to the Divine Being, if, instead of a fast, the people should proclaim a Thanksgiving.”

And so they did. And so can we.

Even if we don’t feel like it.

Contact David Whitlock, Ph.D., at, or visit his website,