November 24, 2014
What are you thankful for?
“We cannot achieve more in life than what we believe in our hearts we deserve to have.” That wisdom is from the late James R. Ball. His career life began with international postings with Andersen Consulting; ultimately to an entrepreneurial launch called The Goals Institute. He wrote a handful of books focused on improving professional performance and achieving your dreams.
The American political spectrum polarizes. On one end, you deserve only what you create or earn. Labor to raise value in something or for someone… and then collect what you deserve from those who benefited from your efforts. The other extreme claims expectations from others, apart from investing themselves for others. Receive without any plan to reciprocate – before, or after – with the giver(s). Those are incompatible incongruities.
It comes to a head this week in America, around the Thanksgiving table. Both positions will pull on the philosophical wishbone, hoping for the moral high-ground in the debate. No matter who “wins,” Thanksgiving loses…
For the deserve-what-you-earn conservatives, gratitude is hollow. If you labored for what you have, you have no one to thank but yourself. The Thanksgiving list is thinly veiled self-aggrandizement.
For the someone-owes-me-something progressives, gratitude is absent. The list of what one deserves – by their own assessment – is constantly refreshed by discovery of a new “right” or a new “entitlement.” There is no Thanksgiving list in that bubble: why say “thanks” for what was “yours?”
Gratitude is a foreign substance on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Because it is not natural, it must be cultivated. Some have the tradition-before-the-turkey of making lists: “What are you thankful for?” If the assemblage is progressive, they cite their accumulation of what they believe they deserved. If the crowd is conservative, they report their payday spoils from things earned-by-effort.
The real list requires thoughtful construction: here’s the formula. It is “to” before “for;” that’s biblical math, and it disciplines the declaration to think beyond earning or deserving.
What did I receive, that I did not earn or deserve? From whom did it come… and what form did it have? God’s grace (receiving far more than I earned) and His mercy (not receiving the moral consequences that I deserved) are the operative character qualities of the Heavenly Father that should focus the attention in the enlightened Thanksgiving discussion.
“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind,” (Psalm 107:14). “To” before “for” is the formula; you cannot drop either preposition from genuine gratitude. Giving thanks is like throwing a pass: without a receiver, it’s incomplete. And, it isn’t a generic summation: it focuses on specific provisions that were sent from a loving God to a needy recipient, who looked at the return address before tearing the box open and consuming the contents.
America celebrates Thanksgiving… but, is it the genuine article, or a cheap counterfeit of the original effort? “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:21-22). Paul’s description of humanity’s decline-through-progress bears a chilling resemblance to America’s advanced stage of cultural abandonment of all-things-God.
Break from the cultural confusion this week: use complete sentences when declaring your Thanksgiving list. Look at your life through informed eyes; read Psalm 107 as a rational reset of perspective at your table on Thursday…
Thankful to you for your friendship,