This week, people all over the United States will gather around tables laden with provisions, recite what they’re thankful for this year, bow their heads, and . . . worry?
For most of us, Thanksgiving Day will be a day for just that–thanksgiving (along with lots of carbs, time with family and friends, an afternoon nap, and probably some football). A timeout for acknowledging our gratitude for our imperfect lives in a world that puzzles us, among people we sometimes can’t stand to be around. Despite their flaws, we know these lives of ours are precious and cause for thanks.
And while these expressions of gratitude are coming out of our mouths, as we pause to count our blessings, worry will not be welcome at the table. True gratitude and worry are incompatible. We cannot thank God for what he has given and done–and simultaneously worry over the people, possessions, and possibilities that fuel our more destructive thoughts. One might follow the other, sentence by sentence, but they don’t travel together. Worried and thankful thoughts repel one another like magnets. And they push our spirits in opposite directions.
Here are three reasons expressing thanksgiving is a great way to fight worry:
Gratitude redirects us
Here’s one reason the apostle Paul instructed Christians to “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Thankfulness changes the way we function. Unlike the way worry often works, gratitude is a conscious and intentional kind of process that brings discipline to our thoughts. It changes the chemistry and activity in our brains, and it turns our attention in a completely different direction. It can literally change our minds. And when our minds change, so does our sense of purpose and our awareness of why we’re here. We gain access to new resources we can share with others. And if you find yourself in a time and circumstance where you just don’t have the words to express thanks, try reciting some of the biblical writers’ words. (Tip: do search for “thanksgiving” on Bible Gateway.)
Thanksgiving tells the truth
Much of what we worry about is real and true (and much of it isn’t), but it’s never the complete truth. When we worry, we become more and more focused on what is negative, frightening, and out of our control. The more we do this, the more we lose sight of what is also true: the positive, the beautiful, the hopeful, the unexpected good, the evidence that God is in control. Expressing gratitude can help expand our perspective to include a more complete version of reality. I think it’s no accident that right after the apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything,” he reminded Christians to “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:6-8). It’s a powerful discipline.
History teaches us
Giving thanks calls to mind what God has done in the past and what he has taught us about who he is. Without remembrance, these lessons fade so quickly. We can forget God’s goodness to us and wonder whether he’s up to the task at hand–or whether he even cares. He doesn’t always give us what we want, but he does care for us. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you,” the apostle Peter wrote (1 Peter 5:7). We can read this and believe it, but that’s not all. Some of the most powerful pieces of evidence are in our own memories.
Thanksgiving is more than an excuse for overindulgence, a nonstop NFL marathon, or a day to enjoy family and friends. It’s serious business, and it’s seriously good for us. As you pause to give thanks this week, set your worries aside and let gratitude build your faith. Consider: what might the discipline of giving thanks do for you during the rest of the year?
© 2014 Amy Simpson.