Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Amazingly, despite being a secular holiday, it’s remained largely untouched by commercialism. Contrast it with Halloween, for example – Halloween decorations and (completely inappropriately) lights, have been deployed earlier and earlier in the month of October in preparation for the big night. Similarly, Christmas decorations typically go on display the week before Halloween in the stores, and sometimes on the first of November in our neighborhoods. Not so with Thanksgiving. You might see an inflatable turkey or pilgrim on a neighbor’s lawn, but chances are, you won’t have sales pitches levied your way to capitalize on the need to buy for Thanksgiving (unless it’s for food in your local grocery store). I also appreciate how many establishments close, or at least run reduced hours, for Thanksgiving. There’s something special about this holiday that flows against the current of the culture – that is to say, there’s something about it that is authentic.
As I get older and the practice of setting aside a day to be thankful resonates more deeply within me, I find it helpful to reflect on the history of Thanksgiving Day in America. Most of us can remember being taught in elementary school about the Native Americans and Pilgrims coming together over a feast after a particularly hard year at Plymouth Rock, but I find how we’ve come to celebrate this holiday as a country even more interesting. Wikipedia reveals that several states undertook the practice of setting aside a day of thanks since their respective foundings, but Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday didn’t come about until 1863 by decree of Abraham Lincoln. For historical context, in 1863, America was deeply entangled in the Civil War. Up until the Battle of Gettysburg, which was fought in the beginning of July of that year, the Union had been losing the war to the Confederate States of America. In one of the darkest and bleakest moments in our nation’s history, our President formally designated a day to give thanks.
President Lincoln offered something transcendent and beautiful within this secular holiday: amid the darkness of our own lives, when all feels lost, gratitude is the best disposition we can offer to God. In fact, it is the pinnacle of our Catholic, human expression to live in Thankfulness. To be Thankful is to know two very important things: 1) I did not create what I now possess, and 2) I do not merit what I possess. St. Pope John Paul II articulated this so poignantly in his discourses that became known as the Theology of the Body when he told us that God always reveals himself to us first – and primarily in our very creation. That I can think, that I can feel, that I can perceive the world around me is first and foremost an unmerited gift that points to the Love of God for me. The antithesis to this disposition of Thankfulness is the disposition of Entitlement. The voice that tells me that I deserve happiness, that I deserve an easy marriage, that I deserve children (that I deserve anything) always shifts my focus away from my reliance on God, and always points to that primordial Sin – to make myself into a little god. That’s a tough one to swallow, by the way, especially when the most pervasive messages from our society try to sell us on the idea that we can take control of our own lives and possess the things we ought not to possess. To be constantly subject to the temptations of these messages is perhaps the most crushing aspect of living in infertility.
Reflecting on Christ’s death for us on the cross teaches us that even the most desperate, the most tragic, and the most lonely times in our lives can be filled with great Hope. After all, it is from that death on the cross, the culmination of the Last Supper, that we receive the Eucharist – which translated means “Thanksgiving.” My prayer for you, and for me, today is that we might live in Thanksgiving for the gift of creation that God has poured into us all – even in all of its human imperfections and brokenness – and that today particularly, we might be able to find at least a few concrete things for which we can give Thanks to God.
From all of us at Springs in the Desert, may God bless you. Have a happy Thanksgiving.
James is married to Allie, his wife of three years, and writes from the great state of Texas. You can meet James’ wife Allie and the Springs in the Desert team at our one-day retreat for women on December 7 in Philadelphia. Visit our retreat page for more information.