CULTIVATING AND MAINTAINING THE HABIT OF THANKFULNESS (GRATITUDE (PART ONE): DEFINITIONS AND BACKGROUND

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This month (November) both Liberia and the United States of America observe and commemorate their National Holidays of Thanksgiving. Liberia observed its own on Thursday, November 3, 2016. An Act of the national Legislature set aside the first Thursday of November of each year as a National Holiday commemorating Thanksgiving Day. This Act encourages all Liberians and those living within the borders of Liberia to gather on this occasion in their various places of worship (Church buildings, Mosques and other forms of shrine) to thank God for preserving the continued existence of the nation and for it surviving various kinds of disasters such as the civil war of 1989-2003 and the scourge of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) of 2014 and 2015. As I was preparing to preach to my congregation on Thanksgiving Day I began to ask myself questions: “Why should we give thanks as a nation? What is the history behind this holiday? Is observing National Thanksgiving Day still relevant to Liberians? How should we give thanks? What is the value or benefits of thanksgiving?” I then and there decided to write a series on the art of thanksgiving or gratitude to share with a larger audience. After all, thanksgiving is necessary for all nations and persons.

The series will proceed as follows. This introductory article will zero in on some of definitions of key terms and the background to the series. The second article will focus on why should nations and individuals give thanks (the question of necessity and purpose). In the third article particular emphasis will be placed how should thanksgiving be made or gratitude be expressed (the question of mechanics). The fourth article will delve into the question of what to give thanks for (the question of substance). The fifth article will center on when to give thanks (the question of timing). Particular attention will be paid to the question of whom to give thanks to (question of object) in the sixth article. And, the thrust of the seventh and concluding article will be on what thanksgiving can achieve (the question of value and benefits).

The four key terms of this series are thanksgiving, cultivate, habit, and maintain. They are all simple words. Thanksgiving is simply gratitude or appreciation. It can take the simplest form of “thank you” and yet with profound effects on both the doer and the object of this small act. To cultivate is to do something over and over until it becomes second nature to one; it is to nurture something until one can do it better and faster. A habit is something that one does over and over until it becomes part and parcel of one’s nature; something that one can do easily without much thought and effort. And, to maintain is simply to keep and never let go what one has acquired.

There is a true story in the Bible about gratitude from an unexpected source. This story is told in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. When he reached a village between Samaria and Galilee he was met by ten lepers (ten persons suffering from leprosy). They stood at a distance and cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”. He told them to go and show themselves to the priest. On their way they realized they were healed completely from this dreaded skin disease. But only when one of them quickly returned to Jesus and fell at his feet, gave thanks to God in a loud voice. Jesus then asked a pertinent question, “Where not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give thanks except this foreigner?” Then he told the man, “Go in peace, your faith has made you well”.

In the ancient world leprosy was a terrible disease like smallpox or Ebola. In addition to the pain it inflicted on its victim, it also stigmatized them. They had to be isolated from normal human contacts. And if for any reason they had to come in contact with those who were not carrying the disease they had to carry a bell and be shouting, “unclean, unclean!” This is the dilemma Jesus delivered them from. But only one of them returned to say thanks. He happened to be a Samaritan. The Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings; they hated and avoided one another as much as possible. Among the Jews that received this free healing only he returned and gave thanks!

This story speak to the rarity of gratitude and yet its great value. By and large a lot of people are ungrateful to God and those who do them good. Some are vey ungrateful to their leaders. Others are ungrateful to their parents and spouses who sacrifice much for them. But the few who are thankful ignite much good for themselves and others. The series will explore different aspects of the simple and yet great value of thanksgiving or gratitude.

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