Monday of this week was the date of the annual Thanksgiving Inter-Faith Prayer Service. Four local congregations take turns hosting the Prayer Service: Emmanuel Community Church, Temple Ahavat Shalom, St. Alfred’s Episcopal Church and All Saints. The Prayer Service is followed by a social gathering sponsored by the host congregation.
At the social gathering this year an elderly fellow approached me. He said, “Father, this will be the sixth Thanksgiving I’ve celebrated alone since my wife died.” I told him that I was very sorry to hear of his wife’s death.
The elderly fellow went on to say, “Father, I was married to my wife for sixty-three years; we knew each other for seventy years. Many people in my situation would be very hurt and resentful to be old, widowed and alone on Thanksgiving.” I told him that I understood that perfectly; it would be very easy to fall into resentment over such a tragic loss.
Then, he told me, “Father, every day since my wife died I’ve been profoundly thankful to God for the happiness I had in my marriage. I’ve lost a lot, but I’m very thankful for all I had.” I responded that, of all the things missing from the world in which we live, the one thing most tragically absent is gratitude.
A random look at world, national or local news will produce numerous examples of the destructive consequences of resentment. Every party to conflict in the middle east is resentful over perceived offenses by the other parties. Every warring nation or faction went to war to redress some wrong they resent. Every terrorist and violent criminal justifies their violence on the basis of their resentments.
Of all the things missing from the world in which we live, the one thing most tragically absent is gratitude. That old fellow at the Prayer Service made a choice to be thankful for what he had lost – not because he had experienced loss, but because he knew his blessings outweighed the loss. These are our choices about life: either to be resentful or to be grateful. The former is always destructive; the latter is always redeeming.
Most of us will feel a little twinge of anxiety today about over-eating or over-indulging in other ways. Some of us will feel sadness over the loss of family and loved ones; others will worry about the future possibility of loss. Hopefully, a few of us will be mindful of those less fortunate than ourselves. All of those experiences can lead to resentment, or they can be transformed into gratitude.
I have a recommendation for your celebration of Thanksgiving Day. Regardless of what happens today, good, bad or indifferent, be thankful. If you have experienced loss, if you are fearful of the future, if you are concerned about the poor and hungry, be thankful to God for God’s blessings in your life. Resentment corrodes every good thing it touches. Gratitude, on the other hand, isn’t weakened by loss; rather, it redeems and transforms the world.