By Chris Roseland
A common table prayer opens with “O Lord, make us truly thankful for that which we are about to receive …”
It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But isn’t there something a little strange about that prayer? I mean, why would anyone pray that way?
“Oh Lord, make us truly thankful …” This little thanksgiving prayer acknowledges that an attitude of gratitude is something that we cannot do for ourselves. We are unable to “make” ourselves “truly thankful,” so we pray for God to make us more thankful than we really are. So, how do we do that? How does a person become “truly thankful”?
Well, one way to help us become “truly thankful” is to remember our story — the story of our lives. We need to recall and speak the story of who we are, where we’ve come from and how we got to be where we are at present.
Now, on the surface, recalling our story seems like the easiest thing we can do. We just tell what happened, just tell what we did and what decisions we made at the time, and why.
But just start to do that, however, and you’ll discover that it’s not as easy as you thought. “Where do I begin to tell the story of my life? What do I tell? What do I not tell? What’s really important?”
Thanksgiving is not only a time that we set aside to give thanks, but it is also a time to remember — a time to reflect on our life’s story.
Throughout the history of the world, practically each culture has designated a time of thanksgiving unto the Creator for the harvest that God has provided. In ancient biblical times, the Hebrew people celebrated two harvest festivals: Shavuot, “the Feast of Weeks” in the spring, and Sukkot, “the Feast of Booths,” which is in the fall.
During these feasts, the people were invited to remember their story. A worshiper would enter the sanctuary of the “Most High God” carrying a basket full of the first fruits of the harvest, and he would lay the basket down before the altar. And then, of all of the things that might possibly happen next, the worshiper is given a story to tell.
“My father was Jacob, the father of us all, Jacob the trickster, Jacob the one, who wrestled with the angel of Lord until the dawn broke and was given a blessing. His name was changed to Israel, and he became the father of us all.
“My father went down to Egypt, and there we became a great and numerous people. But because our clan got so large, our people were enslaved by the Egyptians out of fear that we would overrun them. As we worked all day under the hot sun, it seemed as though all hope was lost. We had no future. Just slavery.
“So, we cried out to the God of our mothers and fathers, and with a mighty hand and signs and wonders, God raised up Moses for us, and he led out of slavery and guided us to this good land.
“So, now, I bring the first fruits of this land to worship God, to rejoice in all that God has given me, and to share these gifts with you.”
The worshipers remember their story. The story of struggle and freedom. The story of despair and hope. The story of God and the blessing of a good land. The story of us.
Thanksgiving is a time for us to remember and retell our life’s story.
But the problem for most of us is that we live such full and busy lives today that we don’t have much time to remember, do we? Oh, we enjoy little moments of recollection now and then, morsels of memories that connect us to our past and our real identities.
We remember our story when we visit our hometown, or when we return for a class reunion, or when we clean out the garage, sit down for an hour with a photograph album or photos on our phone. But, by and large, our minds are too full; we are too preoccupied with the present to remember even a fraction of the past. We are too busy to recollect all the wonderful things stored — the stories — in our memories. We are so engrossed in the present, so mortgaged to the future that we don’t have time for the past.
But what happens to a people who forget who they were? What happens to us when we don’t make time to remember? What happens when we don’t tell and retell our stories?
Well, we become ungrateful. We forget that we didn’t always live here, in this moment — that we had an existence before the one with which we are struggling now. And so, we must pray, “O Lord, make us truly thankful for that which we are about to receive …”
This Thanksgiving, in the name of Jesus Christ, let me invite you to share your story with those around you. As you sit there at the table, pause for a moment, and try to remember. Remember your first thanksgiving. Remember the people that you have met and loved along the way in your life. Remember all the places that you have lived, from your childhood home to your present surroundings, and tell your story.
You see, in remembering, we become grateful, and when we have an attitude of gratitude, we become generous children of God. Indeed, we are truly thankful.
The Rev. Chris Roseland is the Lead Mission Engagement Advisor for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, serving the Northern region of the United States.