Saturday, November 29, 2014

Paying It Forward: A Truer Picture of Thanksgiving

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” – John 13:34

‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la.

Oh wait! Wrong holiday. It looks like Christmas, with a proliferation of stores donning twinkling lights, gold tinsel, and displays of brightly decorated packages in red and green; and even the weather – with five feet of snow in some places – seems to think it’s December already.  But no, it’s a national holiday with the most humble of beginnings that used to signify something important, but somehow has become increasingly buried in a frenzy of football games and Black Friday retail sales. Yes, it’s that time of year again. It’s Thanksgiving.

It began almost 400 years ago with a boatload of Pilgrims struggling to settle into a newly discovered land, giving thanks to God for their very survival, made possible by Native Americans who shared their food crop. It has continued with traditions of family gatherings and feasts of turkey, corn and cranberries, reflecting the fruits of the land upon which we were founded.

From the richest of rich, to the poorest of poor, Thanksgiving was designed to bring to mind a most important concept: gratitude. The question is, “How do you express your gratitude?”

For many years, gratitude was something ingrained into our society. When we sat down to a meal, we gave thanks to God and to the host/hostess for the food. When we received a gift, we wrote out a handwritten thank you note. We acknowledged when someone did even the smallest act of kindness, such as opening a door. Perhaps it was those expressions of appreciation that made us want to do more for others. It wasn’t a burden. It was a privilege. In contrast to today’s world, in which we have to be reminded by books to keep “an attitude of gratitude,” we already had one. Courtesy and helpfulness weren’t the exception to the rule; they were the standard way of life.

A few years ago, a TV commercial aired and quickly became viral on the Internet. In it, one person did something kind for someone else, and then that person was inspired to do something for the next person he crossed. The concept of “paying it forward” was born.

While we may think of it as a new idea, “paying it forward” is not a new concept after all. It’s actually about 2,000 years old, originating with Jesus, as He commanded His disciples, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

In His commandment to “love others, just as I have loved you,” Jesus asked us to follow His example – basically, to “pay forward” His love. And He knew we were capable of it, because He considered something we often forget, which is that we were made in the image of God. Since God is love, we were made to love. And because God is love, that means He also loves to give. In the Garden of Eden, God saw that Adam did not feel complete without a mate, and so He gave him a woman. Up on a mountain, when Abraham looked for a sacrifice, God provided a ram. And when we as a people couldn’t ever measure up to God’s holy standards to find fellowship with Him, He provided a Savior.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Why? As children of God, it is in our DNA to give. Wholly. Unselfishly. Lovingly. We cannot receive over and over again without feeling out of balance. We must find a way to give, or we will never find the peace, joy and abundant life we were created for.

If you’ve been following this blog for the past few months, you’ll know it’s not been an easy time in my life. From my father’s passing to an RA diagnosis, to a bad tooth paired with chronic migraines, it’s been a period filled with pain, one in which I leaned heavily on my husband to help me through. My gratitude grew immense as time went on, but there was a burden that came with it. I didn’t know how to give back.

Then it happened. My husband became ill with back-to-back viruses that put him out of commission for almost a week. As he alternated between the bed and the couch, shivering with chills under a blanket, I served as nurse, taking his temperature, administering medicine, and fetching him soothing foods and beverages. “Rest,” I would say with assurance, “I’ll take care of you.” Even as I became sick with the first virus, I was in better shape than he was. Besides, it felt good to be the caretaker, after so much time of being cared for by him. In giving to him, rather than just receiving, I felt better than I had in a long time.

This Thanksgiving, I bowed my head in prayer to thank God for all the gifts He has given me the past year, including the wonderful husband I now share my life with. I also thanked Him for the wisdom He recently imparted to me: Whether it is “repaying kindness with kindness” to someone who has helped me or “paying it forward” to someone else, the best expression of my gratitude is to give.

How are you expressing your gratitude during this season of Thanksgiving? Do you know what it is to find joy in giving rather than receiving, as we head into the holiday season?

Paying It Forward: A Truer Picture of Thanksgiving originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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