In October 1789, George Washington issued our nation’s first Thanksgiving proclamation, declaring that Thursday, Nov. 26 would be “devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
Washington was just a few months into his first term. It was far from clear that our fledgling nation would survive, much less still be thriving over two centuries later.
Yet Washington found much to be thankful for.
He called upon Americans to be “united in rendering unto [God] our sincere and humble thanks” for what we had. He recounted how God’s provision had been evident throughout the history of the nation, from settling the colonies to making it through a difficult war. The nation’s statesmen had come to a peaceable ratification of the new Constitution. Americans lived in a land with “civil and religious liberty.” The new president was grateful.
Washington also called on the nation to “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” From the outset, our nation has aspired to be great but it hasn’t ever been perfect. Washington encouraged all Americans to acknowledge this. They were invited to spend Thanksgiving not only in gratitude but in repentance as well.
These responses – gratitude and repentance – don’t come naturally to us. Americans have always been a hard-working, industrious people. We’re proud of what we make and what we accomplish. We’re always striving for more, planning for the next quarter, projecting growth into the future. We’ve got a national dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Thanksgiving, however, is a way Americans devised in our earliest days to collectively hit pause on the grind and toil of work. Instead of being hyper-focused on what we can achieve, we take a day off to look at all the things God has achieved for us.
When you look back at the past few decades, we seem to have so much more now than we’ve ever had. Yet I think we enjoy it so much less.
This has been going on since well before the pandemic. We experienced incredible economic growth alongside skyrocketing depression, loneliness and addiction across our country.
Our growing dissatisfaction with life is because of our nation’s shrinking belief in God – a fact that is verified by numerous public opinion polls.
But Thanksgiving as a holiday makes no sense and serves no purpose without God. You can’t be “thankful” unless you’re thankful to someone. You can’t see what you have as a “gift” unless you admit you’ve received it from someone.
I’m praying that, amid all the challenges we’ve faced this year as a nation, we might return back to that spirit expressed by our first president at that first national Thanksgiving in 1789.
Let’s not spend the day simply overeating and hunting for Black Friday deals on our iPhones. Let’s set aside some time on Thursday to “give thanks to the Lord” for his “steadfast love,” which endures throughout pandemics and political turmoil, and into all eternity (Psalm 118:1).