"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." (King Lear, Act I, Scene 4)
What parent cannot relate to these famous words from William Shakespeare? On Thanksgiving Day, millions across the United States will put aside their family squabbles and try to enjoy a pleasant meal together. Millions of parents will wonder, quietly, "What went wrong? Why don't my children appreciate everything I have given, and all the sacrifices I have made for them?" Still, many parents will leave such thoughts unspoken and try to put family differences aside for the day.
Thanksgiving Day has a rich heritage. Most historians trace its origin to a three-day feast, held in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621, at which the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims gathered together to celebrate a bountiful harvest. President George Washington proclaimed the new nation's first Thanksgiving in 1789 and another in 1795, but these celebrations were not held in the fall. It was Abraham Lincoln who established Thanksgiving Day as an annual fall holiday, held on the final Thursday of November. This custom remained until 1941, when the U.S. Congress enacted a law placing Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November.
Today's Thanksgiving Day bears little resemblance to the day first observed by the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims, or even by Abraham Lincoln. The centerpiece of a modern Thanksgiving is likely to be a big parade or a football game, probably seen on television rather than in person. The National Turkey Federation reports that 45 million turkeys, weighing 675 million pounds are eaten at Thanksgiving—15 percent of the year's entire turkey consumption.
Most of us who live in the United States or other English-speaking nations have much to be thankful for; we have received blessings that the majority of the world's population can scarcely imagine. In a world where more than half of the population subsists on less than $2 per day, even the poorest in the U.S. and Britain are among the most blessed people on our planet.
Yet God has given us something even more valuable: the Bible—His "instruction manual" for how to live in harmony with His creation and reap the blessings that He intends for His creation. God is our perfect Parent. He wants us to be happy, and through His law He has shown us how we can be happy. King Solomon knew well: "Happy is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18). Jesus Christ came not to abolish God's law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
We know how a parent feels about a disobedient and thankless child at the Thanksgiving table. But are we disobedient and thankless children of our Father? Jesus Christ admonished those who merely talked about obeying Him, asking "why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). As we prepare for Thanksgiving Day this year, we should ask ourselves: "Am I thankful to God? Do my actions show my thankfulness?" When we take a moment to pray before our Thanksgiving meal, can we honestly say to God, as Jonah did: "But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9)?
The Apostle Paul taught Christians to be "anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6–7). Do we have the peace that comes through thankful obedience to our Savior? Do our actions say "thank you" to God—or do they say "thanks for nothing"? This year, let us resolve to thank God with our actions, not just our words.