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Why be thankful?

Editor’s note: It has become our tradition to ask local clergy to guest write our Thanksgiving and Christmas editorials. This piece was written by Reverend Kendrah Fredricksen, Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Quincy (a church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – ELCA).

On our church sign this month, we have featured the saying, “Practice an attitude of gratitude.”

As Christians, we believe that everything we have comes from God. God has created a world that is abundant with everything we need for life. (If you don’t believe in God, you can still be thankful for our “mother earth” that provides every material thing we need.) God asks us to be good stewards of those resources and through Jesus we learn the importance of sharing what we have with our neighbors (Matthew 25:35-36).

Practicing an attitude of gratitude includes recognizing the role God plays in every aspect of our daily lives. God created us to live in community with others. None of us would be here on our own. We are also a part of the “web of life” that includes every plant, animal and more. We are interconnected. Without those interconnections, we would not exist.

In our American society, a pervasive attitude seems to be that if you work hard enough you will benefit materially. If we think we are successful primarily due to our own efforts, we are not seeing the bigger picture and that leads us to be less thankful. We are at risk of becoming arrogant and feeling entitled to what we possess. We forget that we are part of a complex world where some people are taken advantage of for others’ benefit (e.g. foods produced with unfair labor practices). We may not wish that others suffer on our behalf, but if we do not make informed purchasing decisions, we contribute to that suffering nonetheless.

In our ELCA Lutheran tradition, we do not believe that God grants us material goods as a reward for our actions (which is called the “prosperity Gospel”). It is a society that does not love its neighbors as itself (Matthew 22:39) which creates wealth inequality. Yet, God has provided enough resources for all to live comfortably. God provides for us abundantly, so we are free to share what we have with others.

As we take time to think about thankfulness this season, perhaps we can try to see things from a bigger, global and even godly perspective. We can think about how we are interconnected with other humans and the world around us.

A little humility of heart can change our outlook — we no longer need to live with the mindset of scarcity. Jesus gave us the ultimate example of living with humility (Philippians 2:1-8). Following Jesus, we are free to let go of some of our self-focused thinking and truly practice loving our neighbors as ourselves through our words and actions.

Living with an attitude of gratitude can actually help make us happier. We do not need to be envious or resentful of others. We can be content and appreciative of what we do have — both materially and spiritually. Being thankful is good for our bodies, minds and souls.   

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