Thanksgiving When You’re Not Thankful

SONY DSCHolidays can be really hard.

In my experience the worst is probably Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. Jesus’ birthday, slow-motion snowfall, family gatherings, multi-coloured lights on the Christmas tree, generosity of heart, eggnog, that Sarah McLachlan album.

But problems can arise because its the time of year things are supposed to be “perfect.” But they rarely are. Families come together. We reflect on the successes and failures in our lives.

And holidays can be a reminder that things are not as they should be, despite the fairy-tale commercials, songs of joy on the mall stereo system, and everyone saying how great things are.

Maybe you don’t feel thankful at Thanksgiving, despite people saying you should be.

Maybe you just don’t feel it.

(For any non-Canadian readers, Thanksgiving is this weekend up here.)

In this post I just want to suggest that maybe thanksgiving isn’t just a feeling—It’s an action.

I’d like to thank Allyson MacLeod for introducing me to the book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.

In she tells the story about how an email challenge from a friend changed her life. Ann’s earliest memory is from when she was four. She witnessed her 18-month old sister Amy being driven over by a delivery truck at their farm. Since then, Ann has struggled in her relationship with God. How could God allow such suffering? I think many of us also have these questions when faced with severe adversity.

And she receives an email that changed everything.  She writes: “It was a dare, like a love dare of sorts, and I take it one clear November morning, not at all unlike that long ago morning that her blood soaked the ground and I can never forget. It is the beginning of list season. Lists of holiday menus, lists of handmade projects, lists of have-to-buys. They’re scattered and stacked across the counter, around my desk, when a friend’s dashed-off digital line blinks up on my screen. She dares me, and I don’t even blink. Could I write a list of a thousand things I love? I read her line again. As in, begin another list? To name one thousand blessings—one thousand gifts—is that what she means?  Sure, whatever. I grab a scrap of paper out of the ash-woven basket… and I flip it over. Across the backside, on a whim, a dare, I scratch it down: Gift List. I begin the list. Not of gifts I want but of gifts I already have.

1. Morning shadows across old floors 2. Jam piled high on the toast 3. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce…

“That is the beginning and I smile. I can’t believe how I smile. I mean, they are just the common things and maybe I don’t even know that are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like.”

I like that challenge Ann was given: Could I write a list of 1000 things I love?”

Could you?

One of the silent messages of our culture is “there is not enough.” Not enough money, not enough beauty, not enough love, not enough energy, not enough time. And whenever that is the message, the response is greed. Hoarding. Get a glass of water in the desert and you hold on for dear life.

This Thanksgiving holiday—amidst the pirouetting leaves and warming scents of apple cider—remind yourself of the great Bible verse that is new yet again: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The charity of God reaches to us all. He is enough. Blessing is everywhere when you stop and open your eyes.

Thanksgiving isn’t just a feeling—It’s an action. The work of the hands and heart mould the mind.

So, could I write a list of 1000 things I love?  Yes.  Once you get started, it’s a downpour. Blessings like raindrops in a strong autumn storm.

What’s on your list?

When you start to write, maybe you too will find that you are more thankful than you think, and for reasons that surprise you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Photo by Evan-Amos


  1. She also has great Lenten and Advent resources, as well as a couple of Thanksgiving ideas (of course!). In her newest book, it’s an advent devotional based on the Jesse tree, with beautiful printable decorations.

    Her retelling of the historicity of the betrothal ritual in 1st century Israel brings such a beautiful picture to Jesus words at the last supper.


  2. I’m thankful for your blog Rev. Matthew!
    One Thousand Gifts has been a blessing to me. There is ALWAYS something to be thankful for, we just need to open our eyes and heart.


    1. Thanks Angie! Yes, I would agree. “To see rightly” as God would have us see. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could do it all the time?! Intentional gratitude is something we can always do to keep taking us in that direction.


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