For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NRSV)
Fall is my favorite season. In some years, the transition from the warmth of summer to the cool weather and color change of the leaves occurs slowly, as its beauty unfolds. At other times, the change is abrupt, and the bold colors of yellows, oranges and reds seem to appear overnight. In both cases, we are reminded of the consistent movement of time.
Farmers give thanks for the opportunity to harvest their crops and lay open their fields during this season of change. Thanksgiving is the culmination of the fall season. It is also my favorite holiday. I look forward to seeing loved ones and having time to enjoy their company. There is great joy and anticipation thinking about our guests, planning the menu and finalizing the details involved in meal preparation. I especially like to make time to reflect upon the year with heartfelt gratitude.
In years past, our family has welcomed friends, neighbors and even my children’s schoolmates to join us for dinner. This warm invitation also includes the sharing of our family dinner tradition. Before prayer and the meal, we spend a few minutes going around the table as each person shares what they are most thankful for in the previous year. This creates a time of great joy, conversation and thanksgiving.
This fall season has brought many transitions within and far beyond our community that have impacted our society. I have begun to think about the double-edged nature of thanksgiving and what it means to fully live in gratitude. It is easy to acknowledge, celebrate and be grateful for success stories, good news, the joys of friends and family, the birth of children, new opportunities and adventures.
Yet, for many, this fall season may also introduce difficult or painful events that arrive unexpectedly. A change in one’s family dynamics, a health concern, financial difficulties, the impact of aging or the death of a loved one challenges how one might reflect upon a deeper meaning of the fullness of Thanksgiving.
As we age, I have come to believe that facing a pain-filled situation has the potential to produce a deeper, more meaningful opportunity to learn and grow. As M. Scott Peck notes:
“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
As we prepare for our Thanksgiving Day dinners with family and friends, we are challenged to reflect upon our understanding of giving thanks from two perspectives. First, we may continue to offer gratitude for life’s ultimate blessings. Second, we might also choose to courageously step back to reflect and give thanks for those difficulties in our lives that presented an opportunity to experience new growth and the fullness of thanksgiving in an unexpectedly new way. Ultimately, may your Thanksgiving Day be filled blessings, gratitude and a profound sense of peace.