For many, Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of each November and little more.
The idea of Thanksgiving dates to the founding of this republic, when George Washington, at the urging of Congress, on Oct. 3, 1789, “recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
While Thanksgiving, for the citizens of the United States, is a long and storied tradition, it is so much more than a holiday.
Thanksgiving is an art. Just as with all art forms, the art of thanksgiving begins and then must be refined over time.
I admit that I am not much of an artist in the traditional sense.
But I recognize that even Michelangelo did not paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel when he first started out. Michelangelo was 13 years old when he started an apprenticeship with Domenico Ghirlandaio, a master painter commissioned to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel.
Twenty years of honing his skills later, at 33 years old, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and it took him four years to complete the masterpiece.
You might be wondering what this has to do with giving thanks.
I am glad that you asked.
You see, no one starts out as a master of thanksgiving. The art of thanksgiving is something that you start, and then it must be refined over a lifetime.
There was a first canvas on which young Michelangelo smeared paint. I am certain that his mother proudly displayed the piece, but a masterpiece it was not. It was a long road from that first canvas to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Little by little, over time, Michelangelo refined his craft until he joined the immortal master artists whose names will be known throughout the ages.
When we are born, we naturally and instinctually are very inwardly focused. It takes growth and maturity to become outwardly focused.
It is impossible to have a spirit of gratitude when you are focused entirely on yourself. But, when you can see the external circumstances around you, then you cannot help but to live with an attitude of gratitude.
The art of thanksgiving begins when you look around and see what you have been given. Take an inventory of things that you have but did not deserve.
Also, you should consider the terrible things that you deserve, but did not receive. As the accounting grows, so will gratitude.
When you are filled with gratitude, thanksgiving will begin to spillover. Thanksgiving is an outward expression of an inward appreciation for life’s blessings.
Those who are best at their craft, whether it is painting, teaching, medicine, acting, law, writing, accounting, training of animals, preaching, or any other profession, have all apprenticed under other masters at the craft.
The same is true with the master artist of thanksgiving. The most thankful among us have trained at the feet of other master givers of thanks. Someone taught Michelangelo how to turn relatively inexpensive linseed oil, pigments and canvas or plaster walls into priceless works of art.
There are other renown artists who take charcoal and trash and make them beautiful.
I have been fortunate to have several masters in the art of thanksgiving in my life. They have taught me the difference between happiness and gratitude.
Happiness depends on what happens. That is why it is called “happiness.” Gratitude, on the other hand, is not affected by the happenings of life.
This week, my wife’s grandmother passed away at the age of 91. She was a beautiful and masterful giver of thanks.
Lura Serrett knew hardship. She was born the eleventh of twelve children in the middle of the Great Depression.
That is to say that she was impoverished as a child. Upon marrying, she was a military wife and she left all that she knew to live in Europe and in various places in the United States serving our country with her husband.
She had four children that she raised away from the assistance of her family, a task that I cannot imagine.
In 1971, her oldest child and only daughter was tragically killed when she was in an automobile crash with a drunken driver.
Yet, even with all this tremendous adversity, I have never known a more grateful and thankful person. Lura Serrett was a master at the art of thanksgiving.
To be a giver of thanks, you must begin and then refine the process. There is so much for which we have to be thankful.
First, we have a God who is mindful of us. So much so, that He sent His Only Begotten Son to die for us, that we might have forgiveness of our sins.
If that were not enough, God has given us the greatest country that civilization has ever known to call home. Beyond that, we have opportunities for education, prosperity, and advancement that are unparalleled in history.
For these things, and many more, I am eternally thankful. My name will never be recorded in the annals of the great artist, craftsmen or professionals.
I doubt that my name will even be known 100 years from now.
But, while I am here, I want to be practiced in the art of thanksgiving, for thanksgiving is an art!