An ungrateful heart leads to bitterness and failure. Our Founding Fathers understood this. They also understood that America and the hope she offers were no accident. They believed that Divine Providence was responsible for the formation of a country where freedom and individual responsibility were valued and rewarded above all else. In the very first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation, President George Washington declared Americans must give thanks “That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country” and also “that we may then 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”
In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863, the first of a now unbroken string of Presidential Proclamations, Abraham Lincoln said: “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”
Both of these great men understood the importance of a grateful heart. It is gratefulness that allows us to acknowledge the blessings around us. It is gratefulness that encourages us to stop for a moment and take account of the grace and blessings that have been bestowed upon us by our Almighty Creator. It is gratefulness that prevents our hearts from turning to stone and rendering us incapable of compassion and progress. Our ancestors felt so strongly about this that they saw fit to declare a national day of thanks, when we as citizens would join in one voice and sentiment to express gratefulness. However, these great men did not believe giving thanks as a nation was enough in and of itself. They felt along with thanksgiving should come repentance. Both Lincoln and Washington recognized that thanksgiving without self-examination was useless. They called for national repentance as well. For those of you who don’t quite understand what repentance is, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “repent” as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life; to feel regret or contrition; to change one’s mind”. Lincoln and Washington had both just led the nation through revolutionary and civil war. They understood the importance of being grateful for the fine nation that resulted in both wars, but they also knew that much pain had been wrought upon the American people throughout. They knew that in order to move forward not only did Americans need to thank, they also needed to forgive.
As we approach another Thanksgiving in this great country I wonder if we have forgotten how to be thankful as a nation. Our cities are currently being overrun by the most ungrateful of citizens. Unlike the tea party protests, Occupiers across the nation have not publicly declared one second of gratefulness or appreciation for all America has offered and continues to offer by way of comfort and security. Their ungratefulness has exposed the hardest of hearts among these protesters. We have seen violent deaths, sexual assaults, batteries, cursing, yelling, vandalism, throwing of bodily fluids and a complete disregard for the welfare of average, working Americans and their property. We have managed to raise an entire generation of ungrateful children and our nation is paying dearly for that. Our children are throwing a temper tantrum. Their ungrateful hearts (and many of ours) have turned to stone and the rest of us are witnessing the results, not only in their protests, but in the economy and general welfare of the country. Perhaps its time to step back on this most uniquely American holiday and reflect on our hearts. We have our troubles but we sill have so much to be thankful for when we look at the rest of the world. We are free, and despite our many problems that is a special gift. But we cannot end there. Alongside our thankfulness this season let us remember the divisions that have always plagued us, and let us repent. Let us recognize that we are all sinners; we have all hurt someone at some point. We have wandered from our founding principles and God-given mandates. We have come to believe we deserve all of our blessings. We must turn away from that sense of entitlement, recognize it for the sin that it is, and move forward with grateful hearts.
I am no fool. I know that there are many (far too many) Americans who see nothing wrong with wanting more while giving nothing. There are many reading this right now who scoff at the idea that they need to apologize or ask forgiveness for anything. But for those of us who see value in the idea of thankful repentance, our Founding Fathers saw fit to establish a national day of Thanksgiving. They saw fit to give us the choice to be heard as a nation, to stand together, if only for one day. Lets not waste that day and what it represents. This Thanksgiving lets make the choice, as a nation, to turn and say thank you; turn to our neighbors and say forgive me; turn to our God and say we repent – we turn away from ungratefulness of the past and toward the bounty of a thankful America.