by Jessica Frierson, November 2022
November is the season of gratitude, culminating in a national observance of Thanksgiving Day. George Washington began the tradition of a national day of thanksgiving in 1789. Washington had previously ordered special days of thanksgiving for his troops following successful battles during the Revolutionary War. President Lincoln called on our nation to remember the blessings and provisions of God even amid a war-torn landscape in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation on October 3, 1863. He poignantly reminded us, “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
The practice of setting aside a day to give thanks to God for His care and provision goes back to the earliest days of our nation. According to www.mountvernon.org, “Colonists often established Thank Days to mark certain occasions. These one-time events could occur at any time of the year and, emphasizing prayer and spiritual reflection, were usually more solemn than the Thanksgiving we observe today.”
No history of Thanksgiving Day would be complete without remembering the 1621 occasion of the Pilgrims’ famous feast with the neighboring Wampanoag, and again two years later with a day of praise to God for rain after a two-month drought. But credit for the first annual Thanksgiving observance goes back to 1619 with a group of thirty-eight English settlers who comprised the first permanent settlement in the Virginia colony. The group’s charter from the London Company dictated that, “the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” In keeping with this, an annual commemoration of this earliest documented day of thanksgiving is observed at the Berkeley Plantation, located near the site of their landing along the James River in Virginia.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before
His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. Psalm 95:1-2
Sadly, the Thanksgiving holiday in America has lost much of its focus on consecration to God, gratitude for His grace and provision for the past year, and prayer for the year to come. It has become largely synonymous with family spats, gorging ourselves on turkey “with all the fixin’s,” and football. Gone are the days of solemnity, selflessness, and unity. Thanksgiving aside, our culture today is overcome with self-gratification, which is hardly compatible with gratitude. This loss does not come as a surprise, however, as we are warned in 2 Timothy 3:1-3 that a lack of gratitude will characterize life in the last days:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
As parents, we must not only guard against this type of attitude within ourselves but must also be diligent to cultivate in our children seeds of kindness, thankfulness, humility, obedience, holiness, truthfulness, a love for God, and consideration for others. I believe that all of these attributes are interwoven with a spirit of gratitude.
What makes a person feel grateful? The foundation is an appreciation for what you have and a realization that it is a gift from God. We most appreciate what we have when we have gone through a time of being without those things. Conversely, the more someone has, the less grateful they tend to be.
When our neighborhood was hit by a tornado several years ago, we had a lengthy power outage. I recall how satisfying it was to put away the kerosene lamps and flood our home with light at the flick of a switch once again when the power was restored. What a wonderful feeling when cool air once again flowed from our air conditioner! Things we would otherwise take for granted take on new meaning when lost to us.
Piglet noticed that although he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. ~ A. A. Milne
To help our children appreciate the blessings and privileges that fill their lives, we could shut off the water and electricity or take them to a third world-country to live for a few months. As a less drastic measure, offer them a look at life through the perspective of someone else who doesn’t enjoy those same luxuries. Often, we are unaware of how privileged we are compared to many others in the world.
This lack of awareness was made clear to me one day many years ago when my oldest sons were small. They were visiting their grandmother’s house, and she brought out a basket of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars for them to play with. My youngest brother, a teenager then, came inside with a friend who had recently immigrated from Central America. He came to a complete stop when he saw the basket of cars. In a state of amazement, he knelt and picked one up, looking at it from every angle before giving its wheels a spin. He stayed there for some time, looking at one car after the other, driving them around on the floor with my sons. He went on to share that he had never had a toy of any kind in all his life and had always dreamed of having one – just ONE – toy car like these. Twenty years later, I can still picture his face and vividly feel the overwhelming emotions I felt that day. I witnessed his reaction to what was a very ordinary plaything to us but an unreachable dream for that young man.
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them. ~ John F. Kennedy
How can you instill a spirit of gratitude in your child? Teach them to live so that their eyes, ears, and hearts are continually open to the needs of those around them. Pray with them that God would open a door of ministry for them. Look for an organization they can get involved with that will allow them to share what they have to fill those needs. It may be giving of their time, talents, money, or ideas. Whatever way they choose to give, teach them that the best gifts are those wrapped in love. Using the gifts God has given them to improve the life of others offers a way to put their gratitude into action and helps them fulfill God’s command to love their neighbor. Remind them also that praying for others is the most powerful gift.
This season is a great time of year to partner with organizations serving those in need. Here are a few places that offer various ways you and your family can help.
- Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes: your child can pack a shoebox with school supplies, personal hygiene items, a small stuffed animal, or a deflated soccer ball with a pump to be distributed to impoverished children worldwide. Older kids can volunteer to work in the distribution center, preparing shoe boxes for shipping.
- In addition to the Shoebox project, Samaritan’s Purse offers many opportunities to take a proactive role in improving the lives of others. You can donate to projects that assist refugees, rescue those caught in human trafficking, set up field hospitals to serve in a medical crisis, provide hot meals to a hungry child or infant, drill a well for a community, plant a grove of trees, teach efficient and sustainable farming techniques, empower vulnerable women, assist a family devasted by a natural disaster, or, our family’s favorite: purchase an animal for a needy family that will allow them to feed themselves and establish ongoing income by raising chickens, rabbits, goats, or other livestock.
- VOM Action Packs: Voice of the Martyrs assembles Action Packs that are distributed worldwide to persecuted Christians. They are often disseminated via refugee camps. The Action Packs contain soap, towels, a tarp, zip ties, a blanket, a sheet, and a toy. You can purchase the items and mail them to VOM or make a donation that is specified for one.
- Did you know that the Salvation Army is often the first relief response during floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, house fires, or even acts of violence such as rioting? There are many ways to contribute to the efforts of the Salvation Army. Just a few of the avenues your donation may be used for are providing Christmas gifts for children in your community, helping a needy family pay their electric bills, supporting disaster relief efforts, sponsoring a child overseas, and providing support for recovering addicts.You can also donate clothing, toys, household items you no longer use, and real estate or automobiles. Adults can also serve on their local advisory board, set up fundraisers, volunteer in one of their thrift stores, or serve in the local shelter. (Personal note: my husband’s parents were SA officers. Although their salary was modest, they always had a home—often furnished—and an automobile provided for their use in each city where they were stationed that had been donated to the Salvation Army. My sister-in-law adopted one of my nephews after meeting him at the SA shelter where she was serving with my father-in-law.)
- While the Salvation Army is often among the first responders to a disaster, Mennonite Disaster Relief is often the last to leave hard-hit areas. This organization provides disaster relief to families by rebuilding homes and sometimes even bridges damaged or destroyed by floods, hurricanes, or other natural disasters. Their focus is on long-term recovery. For example, according to Communications Director Jesse Huxman, the MDR team just returned from Marianna, FL, where they have worked for the past few years helping families who are recovering from a hurricane that hit in 2017. In Jesse’s words, “We are often in there two, three, or even more years after a storm has hit where folks are still living in their cars or an old, rotting RV out back because their house is not livable. Volunteers go in and repair or rebuild the home long after all of the other relief workers have left town.”MDR also offers summer youth programs that consist of projects for high school-age kids. They are assigned to work on weekly projects in disaster-stricken areas. The work may include hanging drywall, painting, installing flooring or insulation, laying roof shingles, or doing other rehabilitation chores. No prior experience is required, and they will teach the kids how to do what needs to be done.
As your family gathers together this Thanksgiving, contemplate the many ways God has worked in your lives. Talk together about His goodness and faithfulness to you. Make a plan for putting your words of gratitude into action. Consider giving your time and/or money to one of the ministries listed above or ask God to allow you to cross paths with someone you can minister to. Be sure to include your children in this. Ask them for ideas on how your family can serve others. You may be surprised at the insight they have and the creativity they show. Children often notice details we may miss, especially if we teach them to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to their hearts. You will all find that the more you serve others, the more grateful you will be and the greater joy you will experience in life.
Jessica Frierson is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling her ten children since 2000. She serves as the secretary for NCHE, writes for GREENHOUSE, and is the lead blogger for the NCHE blog.