Thanksgiving is always about bounty, cornucopia, an overflowing with excess. Yet many of us are not feeling cornucopian these days. The bounty isn’t exactly flowing. Excess seems only to be the measure of our debt. We’re not feeling the Thanksgiving.
In the gospels Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them.”
Really? I’m supposed to be thankful that I have enough to eat and a shirt on my back? This sounds like basic survival! Where’s the great thanksgiving in that?
It’s the kind of response you’d expect from someone living in a culture of More. Just having enough to live isn’t enough. Life isn’t enough. Jesus says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, “Isn’t there more to life than all the stuff we spend all our time frantically grasping for?” More things to satisfy all our hungers, more things to clothe, to adorn ourselves, to adorn our lifestyles. Jesus says, When you spend all your time trying to get all that stuff, you miss life.
We’re like the two old friends who bumped into one another on the street one day. One of them looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend said, “What’s wrong?”
The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“But, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand free and clear.”
“Sounds like you’ve been blessed….”
“You don’t understand!” he interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million.
Now he was really confused. “Then, why do you look so glum?”
The man said, “This week… nothing!”
We can laugh at that, but that’s what happens when we found our happiness on a kind of entitlement. This is the level of happiness, and when it drops below this—we’re not happy! So many people are there right now.
This is tough. I know first-hand. You ask yourself, “Where does my happiness lie?” And you’re forced to admit that it’s based on things—even if you consider yourself a person of modest means, it’s still things—and not, as Jesus says, life itself. “Is not life more than food? The body more than clothing?” Can we be happy just for daily bread, daily breath?
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk says that abundance “is not measured by what flows in, but by what flows over. The smaller we make our vessel of need, the sooner we get the overflow we need for delight.” So keep your vessel small, easily filled to overflowing. It’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality, the opposite of the culture of More.
I wish you all a wonderful, overflowing Thanksgiving. And remember, as the German mystic Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer we ever make is ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough.”
Sharon Anderson says
Oh Dad, how right this is. Anthony and I were talking about doing a simple Thanksgiving this year–a pot of a soup, a loaf of bread, maybe some fruit. As the wedding presents roll in and the holidays round the corner, we are just feeling so full of stuff! Good stuff, but still…stuff! I don’t know if we could get the family to agree to soup instead of turkey and pie this year…but maybe next?
And any advice on how to keep that vessel small?
Gretchen Eckloff says
What a wonderful message! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Thanks–and Happy Thanksgiving to you!
Susie Middleton says
This is so wonderful, thank you. I am thinking a lot about the “things” these days as we carried the last load of stuff from my old life (32 boxes of books!) over from my storage unit (to get rid of that expense) to our tiny house this past Sunday. What was I thinking I was ever going to do with all those books? Yes, books are lovely things, but it’s pure ego thinking you’re going to read the entire works of Shakespeare or 1000 pages of Larousse Gastronomique (not to mention 24 Junior League cookbooks) before you die. I’d miss an awful lot of living if I did that. Living in this lovely little house (that small vessel) is forcing me to get rid of excess stuff that I once thought I needed to feel good. It’s a huge blessing in itself to know now that I don’t. And that I’m free to walk out my back door and enjoy the frosty morning just for the way it looks and feels.
A message I needed today David. That is the beauty of the way the Lord works. He sends you what you need, or what you need to hear in places you don’t expect. Today His message came through your words. I always say I want more simplicity, less stuff in my life. Yet at times it seems my vessel is so big, and I’m striving to constantly fill it. I will strive to make it smaller, to want less and be happy with the blessings given to me. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Lisa Leydon says
Long ago I picked up a framed sampler, which I now treasure, at a garage sale….the words of the carefully stitched message read “I asked God for all things so that I may enjoy life. He gave me life so that I may enjoy all things.”
Cathy in Orlando, FL says
Another interesting blog. It reminds me of something I recently read about spiritual disciplines/practices. I expected to see the chapters on praying, meditation, etc., but didn’t expect the chapter on simplicity (or solitude, celebrations) – as something to practice. I guess it takes practice to make our vessel smaller so what flows in is more than enough. Happy thanksgiving to you and your family.
Ginny Lovas says
I have never stopped feeling thankful for all that I have been given. I wonder why I was born to a family that could put food on the table and a roof over my head. To be warm – or cool – what a joy.
I often think of those folks in Africa who have to walk for months carrying a child, just to reach a Refuge Camp. I do not know how they do that – I could not, I know I could not do this.
I guess that I am to give much, as so much has been given to me.
A Blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours.
That story is hilarious, and so true. As painful as the current economy is, the silver lining might be a much needed recalibration of our needs and wants.
“much needed recalibration of our wants and neeeds”–right.
I recently watched a basketball game staged on an aircraft carrier. Shortly after that my Thanksgiving trip home to the USA brought me in contact with a stack of mail that had accumulated since my last trip in May. Norwegian Cruiselines was hawking their latest not so small vessel as was Disney’s Big Red Boat line. As I read these brochures, rain falling hard, I gazed out at my small vessel…. the bass fishing boat that went unused in 2011. But I was not sad for that small vessel held the promise of a trip with my son Steve to put it in winter storage. I treasure those drives up to Fleetwood, PA- three to four hours of uninterrupted time to share with Steve. unlike those behemouth crafts, my small vessel brought me much joy this Thanksgiving…… and I never even took off the cover. Thanks for your blog David… from musings, to insights, to revelations as the saying goes “It’s all good.”
In our congregation a few weeks ago, an elder shared a simple illustration. We were discussing how God knows what you need, how he provides for you. “The problem,” he said, “is that God determines your need to be here (then he marks an imaginary line in the air) but you think your needs are here (he marks another imaginary line in the air, above the first one).” Then he continued, “The distance between those two lines is proportionate to the amount of discontent and stress in your life. When you align your needs with what God says you truly need, then you will have genuine contentment.”
Thank you for writing this post. It’s a good reminder, especially in this culture of More.