A renowned statesman used to borrow a book from his opponent's office library the day before their public debate. This self-imposed indebtedness then served to remind him to act civilly toward his adversary no matter how heated the next day's exchange might become.
When we borrow money, we are indebted by justice to repay the loan. Even if others give us a “free pass,” at the very least we owe them a debt of gratitude. Depending on the circumstances, a simple “thanks” may fill the bill, but some sign of appreciation is always in order.
While many Americans today might not equate Turkey Day with being indebted, nevertheless this is exactly what the festivity represents. The rationale behind the establishment of Thanksgiving was to set aside a day to remember that we owe God our gratitude not only for a bountiful harvest but also for the many other blessings we receive throughout the entire year and every day of our lives.
Young Peoples' Gratitude
As happens each fall semester a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I once again asked my 65 undergrads to list three things they are thankful for. This year, I also asked them to list one thing they feared and one thing that brings them great joy in life. Not surprisingly, there was a positive correlation between what they appreciate most and what makes them most happy. Their top 10 replies for gratitude were:
Parents and family 21%
Fun and partying 7%
Food and coffee 6%
Options for the future 5%
Good health 4 %
These top 10 were followed by several ties for last place, which included gratitude for the gift of their life, for their safety and for their professors. To be honest, I was not so much surprised that teachers were last on the list as I was that we made the list at all!
Next, the young adults in this survey admitted to these top five fears:
Future joblessness 21%
Having to become mature 8%
Terrorism, war, and violence 8%
Interestingly, since this year's political campaign signaled the first opportunity that this aged cohort would be eligible to vote, five percent said they also feared the outcome of our presidential election.
Their top five sources of joy were:
Friends and family 13%
Money and stability 11%
Approval from others 10%
Finally, three percent divided the cause for their bliss among video games, surfing the internet and alcohol.
Since this holiday was first celebrated in 1621 between the Plymouth settlers and the Wampanoag Native Americans, it seems the seminal reason of indebtedness has taken a back seat to colorful parades, stuffed turkeys and pumpkin pies. And although the Pilgrims and Puritans may never have intended this feast to be an annual occurrence, their intention certainly was to give thanks to God and their neighbors for having survived their first winter in the new world.
Before we sit down to watch our favorite football match, we might ask ourselves what are we most grateful for nowadays.
For Holy Homework: Each night this month, before going to sleep, let's think back over the day and recall three things for which we are grateful. In these instances, besides God, do specific individuals also come to mind? Are they people we are rightfully indebted to? If so, let's offer a special prayer to God on their behalf and in thanksgiving for the inspiration they have given us.
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