Thanksgiving is, doubtless, my favorite holiday of the year: Probably because it's all about food and family - two of my favorite things! Plus, when you think about all the things you have to be thankful for, it makes you feel good. Try it! It's hard to feel down in the dumps when your mind is focused on all the things you can give thanks for.
Not only do you feel good when you give thanks, but you also feel incredibly humbled. As you reflect and the list of things to be grateful for expands, you may even begin to wonder why you, of all people, have been so fortunate in those things where your effort had nothing to do with the outcome.
A couple of days ago, I learnt that a cousin of mine who was married just last year had lost his wife. She had carried their baby past the due date so the hospital induced labor. The baby was stillborn and just a few hours later, she passed away from excessive blood loss. Just like that, on what should have been one of the happiest days of his life, he lost his entire family.
As I thought about my cousin, I couldn't help but ask why I have been so blessed to successfully carry two babies to term with uncomplicated deliveries. Why do I get to enjoy the cute giggles and innocent trust of my children when someone else doesn't?
You see, meditating on all that God has done for you helps you realize how unworthy you really are. It's not your wisdom, your smarts that brought you to where you are. And that realization makes you feel like you owe a debt of gratitude - you want to do something for someone else. Thanksgiving becomes an opportunity to give to others who are not as fortunate as yourself.
In this light, these words of Ellen White make a whole lot of sense:
"Our Thanksgiving is approaching. Will it be as it has been in many instances, a thanksgiving to ourselves? or will it be a thanksgiving to God? Our Thanksgivings may be made seasons of great profit to our own souls as well as to others, if we improve this opportunity to remember the poor among us. God has placed His poor in our midst, and He identifies His interest with them. Those who for Christ’s sake relieve their necessities thus show that they would gladly do the same for Jesus; but as they cannot manifest their love to Jesus in person, they do their acts of sympathy, their deeds of love and beneficence, to Him in the person of His saints...
"There are poor among us who have done the best they could; but misfortune and sickness seem to be their lot. Their homes are not attractive because they cannot make them so. They have no money to indulge in the gratification of luxuries or those things their tastes desire. The plain necessities of life are all they can afford. There are many such ones to whom it is exceedingly galling to be obliged to depend on charity in the least sense. But, brethren and sisters, God has placed these very ones in our midst to test and prove us, to keep our dispositions Christ-like. God withholds nothing from us; we are the recipients of his mercies. Day by day and hour by hour, God is giving to us generously; and shall we for one moment look down upon the poor as though in God’s sight we were better than they? God forbid! Never let the hungry cry of the destitute and afflicted ones come up to God against us; for every tear and every pressure of suffering want bears a cry up to heaven,–a grave charge upon some one of God’s favored ones.
"There are a hundred ways that can be devised to help the poor in so delicate a manner as to make them feel they are doing us a favor by receiving our gifts and sympathy. We are to remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive. The attentions of our brethren are most liberal to those whom they wish to honor, and whose respect they desire, but who do not need their help at all. Custom and fashion say, Give to those who will give to you; but this is not the Bible rule of giving. The word of God declares against this way of gratifying self in thus bestowing our gifts, and says, “He that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.”
"Now a season is coming when we shall have our principles tested. Let us begin to think what we can do for God’s needy ones. We can make them through ourselves the recipients of God’s blessings. Think what widow, what orphan, what poor family you can relieve, not in a way to make a great parade about the matter, but be as a channel through which the Lord’s substance shall flow as a blessing to his poor. As you look upon your own children, consider how many there are just as good and noble who have but little to cheer or make them glad. They may be orphans, with no home, no father, no mother, subject to temptations and influences calculated to lead them to ruin when these days of festivity occur. Who has a care for these homeless ones? Whose doors are open to them? Let the widow and the orphan be remembered.
"But this does not embrace all your duty. Make an offering to your best Friend; acknowledge his bounties; show your gratitude for his favors; bring a thank-offering to God...Brethren and sisters, eat a plain dinner on Thanksgiving day, and with the money you would spend in extras with which to indulge the appetite, make a thank-offering to God...
"Everything seems to have degenerated into mixing the spurious with the genuine. Thanksgiving is almost entirely perverted. Instead of being a day of solemn gladness and gratitude to God, it has become a day of jollification, self-indulgence, and gluttony. Self interposes for attention, for gratification, for indulgence. This is a thanksgiving and oblation made to self to the forgetfulness of God and all his benefits to us. Let nothing interpose to detract glory from God...
"How many in the Christian world will upon this Thanksgiving obey the injunction of Christ, “When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” Instead of inviting those who have many good things in this life, and who cannot appreciate the favors of a feast, invite to your homes the needy, the poor, the widow, the fatherless. To the ones who have an abundance we have shown honor; but the ones who were really in need, who would esteem our favors as of great value, we neglect because they are poor, as though they did not belong to the Lord’s family. The poor as well as the rich are under God’s care. Then let us keep Thanksgiving in God’s own way, and no longer follow the customs of the world, selfishly heaping our favors upon a few favorites, and neglecting the ones precious in the sight of the Lord, though slighted and neglected by those who profess to be the children of God.
"Brethren and sisters, will you this Thanksgiving live and act the Christian as well as bear the name? Remember the words of Jesus: “I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. . . . Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me.” Matthew 25:42-45. Never let it pass from our minds that Christ identifies his interest with suffering humanity. And we are to work for them as he worked for us. Jesus says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” We may show our love and benevolence to Jesus in the person of his saints, saying as did David, “All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.”...
"The poor we have always with us; and opportunities are thus granted us of testifying to our love for Jesus in the person of his saints. Jesus linked himself with humanity in ties of close brotherhood. He sympathized with the poorest of the race. On the coming Thanksgiving, let us take our stand on the platform of love to our Redeemer. I shall look with interest for the reports of the coming Thanksgiving; for I believe it will be to all who will work as did Christ, the best and happiest of their lives."
– The Review and Herald, November 18, 1884