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FIRST-PERSON: Gratitude is a choice

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McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Most of us were taught from an early age to express gratitude upon receiving something from someone. Whether it was a gift or some act of kindness, we were instructed say “thank you.”

However, as we matured our gratitude developed a measure of sophistication and eventually came to take on one of two forms.

One form I call polite gratitude. This expression of thanks occurs when you receive something that is thoughtful, but rather insignificant. This form of gratitude is declared when you receive something like underwear or a Chia Pet for Christmas. While the thought is appreciated, the gift does not significantly impact your life.

The other form of thanks I call profound gratitude. This form wells up in response to a gift so special that adequate appreciation is difficult to convey with mere words.

Profound gratitude is what I imagine a person who has received an organ transplant must feel. Someone who has escaped a brush with death might well experience this significant sense of thanks. It was a sense of profound gratitude that caused the fledgling founders of the Plymouth Bay Colony to pause for three days in the fall of 1621 to offer thanks to God.

Approximately a year earlier, 102 people had set sail from Plymouth, England, on a quest for religious freedom. After a trying journey across the Atlantic Ocean and a harsh New England winter, only 55 immigrants survived. It was those 55, joined by some 90 Indians (Native Americans for those who prefer the politically correct term), who paused to thank God for His goodness and their survival.

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If you think about it, those 55 people had much to grieve over. They had watched friends and loved ones die. Hunger and pain had been a constant companion. Who could blame them if they chose to express gripes instead of gratitude?

The survivors of the first year at Plymouth Bay could have calculated their losses. They could have wallowed in self-pity. They could have nursed their grief. They did not. Instead they counted their blessings and chose to praise God from whom they flowed.

Reflecting on the Pilgrims’ plight, one tremendous lesson becomes obvious. Gratitude is a choice. They chose to accentuate the positive and focus on that for which they were grateful. So significant was the first Thanksgiving that almost 400 years later we still pause to express gratitude to the Almighty.

If we are to truly experience the essence of the first Thanksgiving, it will require taking time to inventory the blessings we enjoy and realizing how profound they really are.

I haven’t the space to suggest all the manifold blessings we enjoy in America. However, no matter how you came to live in the United States, you are fortunate to be a resident of a country rife with freedom. If nothing else, be grateful for the liberty you are blessed with.

Cherish freedom of speech – the liberty to freely express yourself, especially any displeasure with government. It is a foreign concept in most countries.

The ability to worship freely is another freedom not universally enjoyed. As you attend the church of your choice this week, I hope you will not experience anxiety over the prospect you might be arrested for your action. Be grateful for the freedom of religion we possess.

Economic opportunity is another blessing. You have the ability to choose your career. You even have the freedom to change your career. While your situation may not be ideal, and an adjustment might not be easy, you still have the blessing of choice.

I could go on and on counting the blessings that come from living in the United States. At the same time, I realize America is far from perfect. It even seems that some of our liberties are being encroached upon. Which is why Thanksgiving has never been more important. Unless we take time to reflect upon what is precious and profound, it is doubtful we will stand and resist if, or when, these blessings are threatened.

Come for my Christmas underwear at gunpoint and I will give it to you. Demand my Chia Pet and I will probably relinquish it without hesitation. However, try take my life or harm my family and you will have a fight on your hands.

This Thanksgiving as you count the ways God has blessed you, ask yourself, “Do I view the blessings of life as underwear or Chia Pets or are they as dear to me as life itself?” Your answer to this question will determine the quality of your gratitude, and perhaps the quality of your Thanksgiving celebration. Here is wishing you a profound Thanksgiving!
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Boggs, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore., is a weekly columnist in Baptist Press.