In my own life there are many things for which I have expressed thanks, and then forgotten: gifts, favors, blessings, compliments, each appreciated in the moment, and then stored away in some distant compartment of my memory and virtually forgotten. Sometimes I remember the gift, but not the giver.
Other times I remember the giver, but not the gift. I can still tell you who was at my wedding, but not what they gave me. Likewise, I can also tell you who stuck with me through the unraveling of that same marriage, but not be able to detail all the specific ways they supported me.
There are also many blessings that I simply take for granted: clean water, a roof over my head, friends and family, freedom of speech, the ability to read, sufficient food, electricity; the list goes on and on. It is a character hazard of being born in the wealthiest country in the world.
The perennial Thanksgiving hymn Now Thank We All Our God begins with the words of its title, and then goes on to finish the thought: "with hearts and hands and voices." Expressing gratitude is significantly more complex than the mandatory please and thank yous of good manners. It is a commitment akin to learning to play an instrument or training to run a marathon. You can't flip a switch and become a grateful person; you have to live into it.
So how does one go about living into it, to thanking God with heart, hands and voice? I love these words from Thomas Merton:
"To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference."Experience God and you will know gratitude. Look for God's loving work in the world everywhere and ascribe all that is good to God and you will live into gratitude. And all whom you encounter will be a little more grateful too, especially your children.
Your children will not learn of God's goodness through your telling of it (though that will help to point them in the right direction) but rather through their own experience. Help them to experience God by teaching them to recognize their blessings, their gifts, and the love behind those gifts. Make gratitude as least as much a part of your Thanksgiving as turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, pie and football.
Even if it is not your family’s practice to give thanks before or after meals, do so on this day. Even if you are unaccustomed to free and unscripted prayer, use this occasion for a popcorn prayer – where every person gathered for this special meal shares his or her awareness of a blessing. Baby steps toward a life of gratitude. Thank God.