"But I don’t feel thankful." I can hear this perfectly logical complaint coming from my kids when I make them say "Thank you" for some act of kindness done toward them. Should we really act grateful when we are not?
But perhaps the better question is, "How could we be so blind to all that God has done that we would ever be ungrateful?"
When the Pilgrims ate the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621, they were being thankful even though they had seen horrific tragedies from the very beginning of their experiment in this new land.
"The Mayflower remained in New England with the colonists throughout the terrible first winter. Although the ship was cold, damp and unheated, it did provide a defense against the rigorous New England winter until houses could be completed ashore. Nevertheless, exposure, malnutrition and illness led to the death of half the group, both passengers and crewmen. There were four deaths (and one birth – Peregrine White) during the month they spent at the tip of Cape Cod. The remainder of the winter saw the deaths of another 40 or 41 colonists. At the lowest ebb, only seven people were healthy enough to tend the sick. On January 14, a fire destroyed the thatched roof on their first structure or "rendezvous" but fortunately none of the sick people that lay within were hurt. A second fire a month later was put out without incident." (Plimoth Plantation web site, www.Plimoth.org).
Experiencing the loss of loved ones and all normal conveniences and even basic necessities has a way of heightening one’s appreciation for God’s most mundane mercies.
It all has to do with our starting place. What do you think you deserve? If you deserve to be six feet under with your soul writhing in hell, then you’re bound to have an elevated motivation to be thankful for any mercy at all. Even a few drops of water on the tip of the rich man’s tongue, as in Jesus’ Luke 16 story, could elicit thanks, if you felt what you really deserve.
The problem with being thankful is not so much one of manners as it is of alertness to the facts, that is, simply having open eyes to what is true. And it is true that you and I deserve nothing good. No, more than that, we deserve everything bad—an eternity in hell.
Sure, it makes sense to teach our kids to say "thanks" even when they don’t feel like it. It is a reasonable service to others and makes our world much more pleasant to live in.
But we could probably nip ungratefulness in the bud if we could ever learn well what we deserve because of our sins.
Try this mental exercise this Thanksgiving when you are feasting on turkey and dressing and enjoying a warm and comfortable home or apartment. Stop for a moment and look around you at the abundance, the family, the nice clothes you have and all you enjoy, and then say to yourself, "I deserve hell." Repeat it several times and believe it because it is true.
Then thank God for even the next breath you are given. Because it is only "in Him" that we "live and move, and have our being." (Acts 17:26)