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The Transformative Power of Thanksgiving

by Tara K.E. Brelinsky

From artificial evergreen trees dotting the Walmart aisles the day after Halloween to Facebook posters proudly displaying their stocking-hung mantles in the first week of November, each year it seems as though the Christmas season begins sooner and sooner. But in the rush to craft our wish lists for Santa and hunt down the best Black Friday deals, we may be bypassing an important date on the calendar.

Okay, well perhaps the American holiday of Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily crucial from a salvation stand-point, but it is an invitation to exercise gratitude. And the virtue of gratitude has the power to transform hearts and minds throughout the year.

Counted Blessings

Several years ago when I was experiencing a Job-like walk through the desert of loss and sorrow (four consecutive miscarriages and the corresponding medical bills, the loss of our only source of income, depression and physical ailments), I began to consciously count my blessings and deliberately turn my work into prayers.

thanksgiving sufferingIf I was feeling low, I thanked God for the health of my living children, my marriage, our friends, the food on our table, the roof over of heads, the clothes on our backs, the vehicles that transport us, etc. I took a mental inventory of the storehouse of good things in my life.

When depression had me deepest in its pit (making even those simple expressions of gratitude difficult to whisper), I would just thank Jesus for the breath in my lungs and the beating of my heart.

As I began to make gratitude into a habit, I discovered a phenomenon. The more times I stopped to count my blessings, the more blessings there were to be counted.

Gratitude Transforms

While my suffering wasn’t instantly abated by the new routine, gratitude slowly transformed my whole perspective on life and the events which unfold throughout it.

Sometimes there’s real a temptation to see our personal trials as overwhelming or hopeless. Or we may judge ourselves as incapable of enduring a particular hardship (I’ve sure entertained both of those scenarios). When we allow those ideas to overrun our thoughts then, as the cliché goes, we can make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Certainly, having cancer, losing your job or going bankrupt are not light crosses to bear, but our perspective of those situations does effect the way we experience them. Our thinking can magnify trials and trauma.

That’s why so many saints have instructed us to give thanks in all times, whether in health or illness, in prosperity or poverty, in honors or desolation. They recognized that God is true to His Word and works all things for our good. However, we must allow Him the space to work within us.

The more you are afflicted, the more you ought to rejoice, because in the fire of tribulation the soul will become pure gold, worthy to be placed and to shine in the heavenly palace. — St. Padre Pio

This may sound like a difficult lesson to accept, but exercising the virtue of gratitude reshapes the heart, mind and will. Thanking God for every gift (be it a joy or a sorrow) acknowledges that He is All-Good and always in control.

Work as Prayer

giving thanksIn addition to listing my blessings, I also turned my chores into prayers of thanksgiving. So when I was doing the umpteenth load of laundry for the day and frustration began to creep in, I would say thank You, Jesus, for the ability to clothe my children (I’m also extremely grateful for washing and drying machines!).

Fumbling with the bedding for a large household, I thanked Him that we have safe, comfortable places to rest our heads at night. And I prayed for families living in unsanitary conditions.

Occasionally, I’m still tempted to bemoan the task of loading/unloading the dishwasher in our household of ten (amazingly 10 people can generate 30 dirty cups before 11am!). Well, it sure does correct my thinking when I stop and consider that there is a woman who has to walk a mile (or more) to tote clean water back to her dirt-floored home. I am thankful for dishes, a dishwasher, and my kitchen sink.

Give Thanks First

Bypassing the holiday of Thanksgiving in the rush to prepare for Christmas could misalign our priorities. Or perhaps our impatience to jump ahead in our celebrating is a symptom of our already disordered priorities.

Again, I’m not suggesting that the American feast day of turkey and pumpkin pie trumps the saving grace of the Nativity. But Thanksgiving prompts us to reflect on the abundance of our current blessings before creating our wish lists. It’s a reminder to appreciate  and to express our gratitude for what Jesus has already done/is doing in our lives before telling Him what we hope He’ll do for us in the future.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer. 1 Tim 4:4-5

What are you grateful for today?

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