Thanksgiving is a day that we set aside to give thanks. What does it mean to give thanks? First of all, it means that we give thanks to someone – a person. We do not give thanks to the air, or just to make ourselves feel good. Sometimes we thank a pet or a service animal who, although they may not understand our language, has a way of perceiving that gratitude. However, most of the time, we give thanks to a person, whose acts helped us in some way. A habit of thanking neighbors, friends, parents, grand-parents, service members, first-responders, and others for their help, generosity, love, and/or concern is a noble act. It reflects humility, a knowledge that we need others to survive and thrive. It is the recognition of the sacrifices others chose to make on our behalf. Giving thanks to others also helps us because, by acknowledging these acts of others, we are lifted out of the bubble of “me” and into the freedom of “us.”
But Thanksgiving Day goes farther than thanking those around us for their kindness. In the middle of the Civil War, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday set on the last Thursday in November. The purpose was made clear in the proclamation:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
ˆ Mr. Lincoln established Thanksgiving to be a time to thank and praise Person , in the midst of a horrible war – God Himself – for the deliverance He had given and the blessings He had bestowed. This thanksgiving was also to be accompanied with national remorse and repentance for the perverseness and disobedience of slavery that brought on the bloody civil war. It was also to be a time of fervent prayer to God to heal the wounds of the nation.
In Luke 17:11-19 we read of ten men who were lepers. When they saw Jesus they all cried out for healing. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest (for examination). On the way, they were cleansed – the leprosy was gone! One of them turned back, ran back to Jesus, fell at His feet – giving him thanks. After asking where the other nine were, Jesus’ told the leper to get up and go on his way because his faith had made him whole.
Having the faith to stop, return, and give thanks literally made him whole. What was the difference between being cleansed and being made whole? I am not sure, but perhaps the other nine only received a healing of the disease. Their sores dried up, the scabs disappeared, but the damage that was left – the missing noses, fingers, or ears – was not repaired. The tenth leper, however, was made whole. This could mean that the all the damage done to his body by that terrible disease was healed because of the faith that caused him to stop and give thanks.
Giving thanks to God is a fruit of faith. It recognizes Him for who He is. Stopping to give thanks brings healing to our souls and makes them whole. Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord, our Shepherd, restores – or resets – our souls. That work goes faster and deeper when we are thankful, even in the midst of difficult situations. It is a simple, but often neglected truth – giving thanks makes us whole.
I believe that Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving did much toward ending the Civil War and making our nation whole because many of our citizens were people of faith. Unfortunately, today, many Americans do not believe there is a Person to thank – just a superstition to debunk. It is left to us who believe, and know our God, to join with our loved ones to thank Him this Thanksgiving and to, as the proclamation invites, “fervently implore the intervention of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it. . . .” In other words, to make it whole again as well.