It’s the season of Thanksgiving, and after the volatile 2016 election season there is a palpable tension in the air. Good will and gratitude toward one another seem to be in short supply. Instead, many are filled with enmity, bitterness, regret and spite. Though the Pilgrims/immigrants we honor through our traditions of Thanksgiving journeyed to this continent in search of freedom from oppressions, including the freedom to worship God in any way thought appropriate, our present national mindset feels less hopeful. The pilgrims overcame monumental obstacles to find the precious gifts of freedom as they sought to exercise their God-given free will. Today, we have a different, though related, choice: How shall we approach this season of hope and gratitude? With what are we filling our hearts and minds during this season of Thanksgiving?
One of my favorite mantras is, “There is only one God and I am not it!” This reminder can help us to recognize the blessings of life and through its prism of humility, it can help us to realize that everyone deserves respect, even though we may disagree on many aspects of life. So I ask, “Who are the gods in your life in which you place your faith?” Is your god found only in earthly pursuit? Do you earnestly pray, “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven”?
God is not some sort of cosmic Santa Claus that doles out gifts and good will to those he deems good and worthy. Our human tendency is often to desperately pray that we can change or influence Divine decisions about the gifts that are freely given to us. And, like a child who is disappointed on Christmas morning because gifts received do not match expectations, we throw fits when we do not get our own way. We quickly turn away from the Divine and seek our own answers. When we do not allow God to be God we can believe that we are in control of life and our happiness and gratitude become dependent upon our successes and failures, i.e. whether life is going our way. Thus we miss the blessings from God all around us and we lose the chance to cultivate gratitude and love. We miss the mark. We miss the purpose of life itself. We fail to share with others the love of God that He so freely bestowed upon us.
Even as we change our leadership in the tumult of the election season, there are many reasons for celebrating with gratitude. We should be grateful that we have the freedom to participate in our governmental process, a privilege and responsibility not universally available throughout this world. Far more people live under oppressive regimes than in a republic such as ours. We say our prayers of thanksgiving without facing the fear or reality of religious persecution.
Maya Angelou wrote, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” Let us stop and truly give thanks for our imperfect lives and the freedom we so easily take for granted.
The Rev. Teresa Martin is pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Coopersburg. The church is host to the annual Community Outreach Benefit that helps families facing crushing medical expenses. Several Saucon Valley families have been beneficiaries.