It was the first year of our marriage, and Dana and I had gone to Trinidad to visit her parents, who were then missionaries to that island. While we were there, we made a day trip over to the much smaller island of Tobago, one of the most beautiful jewels on earth. But, as with most tourist destinations, there was the facade that outsiders see and the reality that the people who live there know all too well.
We went to eat at a little local café, and as always with West Indian food, everything was delicious. Roti, doubles, curry chicken, whatever they fix, you should eat. And we did. Heaping plates of food that satisfied our stomachs and made our taste buds do happy dances along the way.
But about halfway through my meal, a decidedly “non-American” kind of thing happened. A very shabbily dressed, local lady, thin nearly to the point of emaciation, came to our table and stood beside me, not saying anything, just standing there.
“What is she doing?” I whispered to my father-in-law.
“She is waiting for you to finish, so she can eat whatever you leave behind,” he said simply.
I picked up my plate and handed it to her, suddenly no longer interested in eating. She smiled and took it from me and went off under a tree to eat it.
I have traveled extensively in my lifetime; by my count, I have been to fifteen different countries and twenty-two states. And not one time in my entire life in any of those twenty-two states have I ever had someone stand beside my table waiting for scraps to eat when I was done.
Please do not misunderstand. I am well aware that there are impoverished people in America as in every other country of the world. Our church has ministered to the homeless for many long years now, feeding them, clothing them, taking them to doctor’s appointments, and preaching their funerals. We are usually the only ones there for those funerals. But to me, it is indisputable that we have it better here than any other place on earth. Our poor would be regarded as middle class or even wealthy by the standards of many of the mission fields I have visited.
We are entering the Thanksgiving season. And we are doing so in a land that has approximately 900 million acres of farmland, 40,000 grocery stores, 1,000,000 restaurants, and 8,600 farmer’s markets. And to access all of that, we have some 290 million cars for our 230 million drivers, or 1.26 cars for every driver. And we are accessing that food; actually, we are over accessing it. America stands number one in the world for obesity, with 42% of Americans being classified as such.
Don’t tune me out; I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. Quite the contrary, actually. I am trying to emphasize that if any people on earth ought to be thankful for our blessings, we should.
Psalm 100:1-5 says, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. No more appropriate instruction could ever be given to people as blessed as we are.
As you begin to prepare your holiday feasts this year, let me encourage you to do something. Turn the television off for a good while, especially the news. Greatly minimize your time on social media. Pull away completely from any negative “this is a horrible land” crowd you are in. Take stock of how blessed you are to live here, and give thanks to the good God of heaven who made that possible. Go take a walk through the woods, and thank God for the beautiful colors. Get your family together for board games, times of reminiscence, even watch old home movies together.
Be in church. Be in your pew singing praises to the King. Be at the altar expressing gratefulness, praying prayers that are way more “thank you for” than “here is what I need or want.”
Thankfulness is a choice. But just like all of the crops on those 900 million acres of farmland, it must be tended to and carefully cultivated. Weeds have to be ruthlessly removed, things like bitterness, narcissism, anger, and hatred. You also have to guard against the enemies who would convince you to despise your own crops, as if somewhere out there is some other crop in some other land that renders what you have here a filthy and vile thing. People like that are simply spoiled to the point of stupidity and not even worth listening to.
Choose thankfulness; in this land, it should be an easy choice indeed.