Sharper Focus – Gratitude-giving

by S. E. Horwood, Captain

With the Christmas season nearly upon us, we will soon be sucked into the relentless vortex of holiday frenzy. By now many of us, disheartened, have looked at our bank accounts, started to catch some sales (well, my wife has, anyway), and hoped this Christmas will be less expensive than last, but alas, we know otherwise. Corps officers are already feeling their days (energy and patience) starting to erode. The kettle sites, volunteers, community dinners and parties are well established and locked into those bulging daily planners. It seems activities and responsibilities keep pulling us along. As reluctant as we might be, expectations and budgets drive us forward. But in just a few days we will be able to enjoy a brief respite as we belly-up to a Thanksgiving table, and enjoy a festivity which dates back three hundred and eighty-five years.

One hundred and forty-two years ago, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln helped us to acknowledge our gratitude when he made Thanksgiving an official national holiday. He said, “I . . .invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

In my capacity as the secretary for World Missions, I am frequently reminded how easy it is for us to take for granted the incredible bounty that we have in America. Often we are reminded of how fortunate we are when the things we rely on are taken away. For example, the survivors of Hurricane Katrina will forever have a different perspective on the value of continued electricity, access to food and water, and police protection. These are presumed characteristics of our society, and ones that are uniquely identified with a “developed’ country. But most of the world doesn’t know that level of development.

One day while we were living overseas, my kids shared a banana with a young boy near our house. His reaction left an indelible mark on all of us. As he took the banana, his face lit up with extreme enthusiasm. After thanking my kids, he proceeded to eat it, peel and all. He was thoroughly grateful, then thankful.

I understood the difference between gratitude and thanksgiving through that event. It is said that gratitude is when we give our full appreciation of something altogether undeserved, utterly gratuitous––and this is the literal meaning of grate-fullness. We are grateful when we realize that we have been given something undeserved. Thanksgiving comes in the very next moment, when the fullness of gratitude overflows. Now you are beginning to think in terms of giver, gift, and receiver. Gratefulness turns into thankfulness; gratitude into praise.

Not to be taken for granted, family, friends and relationship with our Heavenly Father are the first to come to mind when we reflect on the year. But our bounty goes far beyond relationships. God has allowed us to live in a remarkable country, with limitless possibilities. Every day is a day to be grateful, but Thanksgiving, possibly the purest of national holidays, is a day set aside to remember the Giver and the gifts so lavishly given. It is an opportunity, perhaps for only a few hours, to step out of the accelerating rush of the holiday season, sit with those closest to us, and give “praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

Let me conclude with a quote from someone much wiser and more capable of communicating. Leroy “Satchel” Paige, arguably one of baseball’s finest pitchers, once quipped, “Don’t pray when it rains, if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”

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