Surviving Thanksgiving when you don’t feel thankful

When the feeling is gone

Sitting around the table, about to reach for the mashed potatoes, you dread what’s coming next, “Ok everyone, let’s go around and all share what we feel thankful for this year.” It comes to your turn, “I feel thankful for … ?”

Sometimes, the feeling of thankfulness is not there.

When we feel thankful, we tend to express it. But maybe this finds you tired or numb or anxious this Thanksgiving. How can I be thankful when I feel like this?

Thanksgiving is a verb

And yet, the good news is that gratitude isn’t really a feeling. Feelings are not insignificant — listen to them, they are windows into your soul. But they don’t have the final say.

Gratitude is actually more of a verb than an adjective. Living a life of gratitude is an orientation, a practice, a way of being. From the very first pages of Scripture, people of faith learn that the abundance of the Earth is a blessing from the Creator, for which people respond in gratitude by caring for Creation.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Gen 1:28-31 ESV)

The proper response to a world of abundance is practical gratitude and wise stewardship.

To practice gratitude is to find tangible ways to celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of God, which is true in abundance and in scarcity. It is to hold material things loosely, with an open hand. They can be just as freely enjoyed as given away. Gratitude is a very practical spiritual discipline.

Be practical

If you want to begin to experience real gratitude this Thanksgiving, don’t just wait until the feeling develops, hopefully in time for Thursday’s dinner.

Rather, commit to one small action you can take and practice it every day. You can brainstorm your own practical gratitude discipline — or pick from this list.

  • Set an alarm on your phone to go off at the time you typically arrive at your desk at work. Have it remind you to pause and thank God for your job before you begin for the day.
  • Place a verse such as Matt 6:33 somewhere visible in your wallet and read it every time you open it to make a transaction.
  • Write a note on your credit card with Sharpie to prompt you to pause and say a prayer of thanksgiving every time you swipe it.
  • Select something that costs you money, from which you can fast for the week leading up to Thanksgiving (coffee, lunch out, etc). On Thanksgiving, make a monetary donation equal to that amount as a way of expressing to God that you hold his gifts with an open hand.
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