This past week, along with most Americans, my family celebrated Thanksgiving together, with the exception of our son who is currently serving overseas with the U.S. Navy. Obviously, some things were different given the circumstances of our day related to the COVID-19 situation.
I am sure for most people this was the case and for some more acutely so given new travel and gathering restrictions, loved ones being quarantined or even hospitalized, or financial hardships that are affecting so many.
Still, some things were very much the same. It is a time for traditions whether it is the activities of the day, football on the TV, or the menu. This is perhaps my favorite holiday of the year—I think because it is the least commercialized—but also because it gives us the opportunity to gather and, as a person of faith, to reflect upon the Lord’s kindnesses and the many blessings we enjoy.
Two weeks ago, as my wife and I were preparing our Thanksgiving menu, I found myself in a somewhat sentimental and nostalgic state of mind. It came upon me when we noted that we would be serving rutabaga again. It was one of my dad’s favorites.
He insisted upon it being served every year, as did his father and his father’s father. It is a culinary family tradition. My father liked having something on the table that was part of his childhood. I am not sure we all like it equally, but we honor my father by serving it and keeping the tradition alive.
If my dad were still with us, he would be 83 years old this Thanksgiving. He died in 2006, before his 70th birthday and a week before my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Though his life was not easy, my dad was a thankful man.
Alcoholism, unemployment, and the implications of these on family life were part of my dad’s life and our reality. Regardless of his shortfalls, he never faltered in his attention and affection as a father. And every year, when the holidays rolled around and Thanksgiving took place, my dad was at his happiest.
But in 1979, something changed—everything changed. My father came to faith in Christ and Thanksgiving took on a new meaning. My dad was a thankful man prior to his conversion, but afterwards, his perspective and his posture were one of deep and abiding gratitude, not merely seasonal thanks-giving.
This is what the faith does: It changes us, our outlook, our perspective, and our priorities. My dad was born in 1937. In that year Franklin Delano Roosevelt, following a longstanding tradition, offered the following in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation:
“Let us, therefore, on the day appointed forego our usual occupations and, in our accustomed places of worship, each in his own way, humbly acknowledge the mercy of God, from whom comes every good and perfect gift.”
I thoroughly enjoy reading the presidential proclamations. Those from FDR strike me in a particular way. They are given in years when the country is in the midst of either a great depression or a world war. They are exhortations to be thankful to God.
I love this line from the 1937 proclamation where the president calls upon the nation to “humbly acknowledge the mercy of God, from whom comes every good and perfect gift.” How striking that the president would speak these words to a nation gripped by a depression, the trials of the dust bowl, extensive poverty, and the looming threat of a global attack on human freedom and liberty.
It is a powerful reminder that in our own day—as we experience chaos, confusion and uncertainty—that the mercies of God are real; that our thankfulness is to transcend our circumstances; and that being humble before the Lord and grateful actually strengthens our faith and brings us courage, comfort, and peace.
When we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and pass the rutabaga, I am mindful of my father’s testimony. Regardless of the hard realities of life, the brokenness of this world, the sinfulness of humanity, and the disappointments and discouragement that often occupy our minds and hearts, faith brings light and life, peace and comfort.
How could we be less than thankful given all of that?