Thanksgiving as a Foreign Language


If Rosetta Stone offered a course that taught the foreign language of gratitude I would buy that in a heartbeat. Thanksgiving is a theme that God has continued to bring to my mind and heart over the past few years. It is a theme and practice that has affected the way I process life and the way that I worship. Thanksgiving is joy-giving...life-giving...and yet, if you are like me, thanksgiving is not your native language. Giving thanks is not my natural response to life; it is, instead, a learned response. I practice this discipline until it becomes more natural, and then I forget, and then I practice again. Such is the ebb and flow of our spiritual journey. And while giving thanks may not come naturally in all situations, scripture has much to say on the topic and continually instructs us to do so. Here are just a few verses:

Psalm 100:4

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Bringing thanks to the Lord is an act of worship and I long to worship well. Since thanksgiving is a second language that we will need to practice, would you consider taking the month of November to focus on becoming more fluent? Here are a few suggestions that may help you and your family as you seek to grow in your ability to give thanks:

Thank You Notes:

Write one thank you note every day for the month of November. Did you know that unexpressed gratitude communicates ingratitude? In other words, if you appreciate the fact that your husband takes care of the yard but you never say “thank you” then you are communicating ingratitude to him. What would happen if you took the time to send a note of gratitude to your spouse, teacher, boss, barista, neighbor, client, friend or pastor? What would happen in those relationships? What would happen in your heart if you looked for people to thank every day for a month? Why not try it and find out? This could include emails or texts, but let’s be honest, there’s still something special about snail mail.

Family Testament:

Several years ago I collected specific, personal testimonies of God’s faithfulness from members of my family. I printed them on nice paper, put them in a binder and gave them as Christmas gifts. Every Thanksgiving we get out the Family Testament and take turns reading some of the accounts of how God comforted my grandma when her husband died, or how he protected my brother during a near accident, or how money showed up in the mailbox just when the mortgage payment was due. This compilation of testimonies is a treasure to our family because it reminds us that the God who parted the Red Sea is still doing miracles, and we are “eye-witnesses of His majesty!” (2 Peter 1:16). It is my hope that our children will contribute to this book and that they will one day read it to their children’s children as a personal testimony of God’s care and faithfulness to our family. What stories would your family tell when asked “When have you seen God at work in your life?” What testimonies would you hear if you ask people to complete this sentence: “I know God is at work in my life because…”? Email your relatives and find out!

Thanksgiving Tree:

This one is particularly fun if you have young kids. For the past three years we have been sticking some dollar store contact paper on the wall to form a tree and each night at the dinner table we write things we are thankful for on a leaf or two and hang them on the tree. It is a simple a tangible way to "grow" gratitude. I have seen this done in really beautiful ways with fancy centerpieces or tree branches but the dollar store contact paper works great too - especially if you'll have little hands helping.

Thanksgiving Box:

Place a box and some blank index cards on your dinner table for the month of November. Each night, while eating your meal, ask each family member to write something they are grateful for on a card and stick it in the box. Discuss what people wrote and why. When you set up your Christmas tree in December, stick this box under the tree with a tag that reads “things we already have”. Maybe open it on Christmas Eve and remember God’s generosity.

Count Your Blessings – Literally

Another variation of the above suggestion would be to keep a running list for the month of November of all the things for which you are thankful. I tried this with our praise team one year and most of us ended up keeping a list on our phones so that whenever something came to our mind we could instantly add it to the list. Every time we sing the song “10,000 Reasons” I always wonder, “Could I find 10,000 reasons to bless the Lord?” How many could you find in the month of November? 100? 1,000? The beauty of this exercise is that it opens our eyes to the many small graces and gifts that often go unnoticed - hot showers, strong coffee, hearing your kids laugh - 10,000 reasons for our hearts to find….all we have to do is look.

Prayers of Thanksgiving Only:

Have you ever tried praying without asking God for anything? It definitely takes concentration but I have found it to be a great tool in practicing the language of gratitude. For example, instead of praying “please protect us as we travel” you could pray “Thank You, Lord, that you promise to never leave us or forsake us. Thank You that we can trust You with our lives and the lives of our kids/spouse.” Would you accept the challenge to pray a prayer of thanksgiving only at least once a day for the month of November? Or, for those of you who really want a challenge, could you go the whole month without asking God for anything? How might this type of praying change your heart?

These are just a few examples. Talk with your family about these options or others and commit to developing the discipline of Thanksgiving this November. I published this in October so that you will have sufficient time to decide which option works best for you and your family and gather any materials you may need. When we come before the Lord, we want to come open-handed, but never empty-handed. In fact, the Bible tells us that the most pleasing and appropriate way to approach God is with hands and hearts full of thanksgiving and praise. In addition to developing a habit that is pleasing to God, I guarantee that becoming more fluent in the language of thanksgiving will bring more joy and hope and contentment to your life. It takes roughly 30 days to form a habit. There are 30 days in November.

Who’s with me?

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