“Thankful Turkeys” and Reign of Christ Sunday

How can we grasp gratitude when it feels far away, wonders Aaron Neff?

Making a thanksgiving craft

Photo by AartiKalyani

Every year during November, my wife and I do “The Thankful Turkey” with our kids. Lots of families do this now. Here’s how it works. Each of our kids designs and colors a turkey that gets posted on a wall in our house. The only thing missing from the turkeys are their tail feathers. So, each day in November, the kids take a colored tail feather, write something they are thankful for on the feather, and put the feather in their turkey’s tail. At the end of November, each turkey has a vibrant and colorful tail, displaying lots of gratitude. It’s a fun tradition and a helpful activity.

The statements of gratitude that go on each feather sometimes say things like: “My family,” “My teacher” or “My friends.” These are important things to feel grateful for and to never take for granted. But my four-year-old’s gratitude statements, though very simple, sometimes cause me to stop and think. He will sometimes be thankful for the same things as his older sisters. But sometimes, when we ask him what he’s thankful for today, he’ll say things like, “My turkey’s eyes,” because he thinks his Thankful Turkey has really cute eyes. Or, he’ll say things like, “My vacuum and mop,” because he saw his vacuum and mop and felt genuinely grateful for them. We might chuckle because of the innocence of such statements, but isn’t this the kind of all-encompassing gratitude that we’re encouraged to express in 2 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances”? Perhaps this isn’t the same thing, but I am convinced that if I felt more genuine gratitude for things like my vacuum and mop, I’d probably feel more content and joyful in life!

Sometimes I think we assume gratitude is like trying to find the silver lining of a storm cloud or admiring a rose despite its thorns — finding something positive in the midst of negativity. However, my mind goes to what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul faced countless (and even life-threatening) situations in which there really was nothing tangible to be grateful for, and yet, somehow, he could say he was content. His gratitude stemmed from the strength he gained knowing that Christ was with him.

By looking at the world around us, we see human suffering. We experience it in our own lives. This is not the way God intended the world to be. If we look closely, we will see glimpses of God’s redemptive and resurrecting power at work, which are reasons to be grateful. Nevertheless, if after looking closely, it still seems hard to see even those glimpses, we can draw strength from knowing God is with us in the bleakness. With the Reign of Christ Sunday approaching (a day on which we remember that Christ will one day return to us to finally set all things back in order), we can also be reminded of the hope we are offered in Christ — that suffering will not always persist. May we know this to be true in our lives and feel the gratitude that comes through Christ who gives us strength.

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