Why do we give thanks?

“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

It’s that time of year when we remember how ‘grateful, thankful, and blessed’ we are—but why? You might be thankful for family and friends who love you, food to keep you strong and a roof over your head, good health, a job, and many other things. But for all of these things, why is it important to show gratitude and thanks to God?

For many of us Americans, being grateful and giving thanks isn’t something that comes naturally. “To give thanks is one of the most important things that we can do in life. It’s probably also one of the things that we’re not too great at, because we are by nature programmed to take things for granted. Especially in our modern world in the West, when so much goes according to plan a lot of the time, when we don’t go without around here like was true once upon a time in history. So the more things happen like we expect and things are always available to us with food and resources and electricity, we just sort of assume it’s always supposed to be this way,” says Father Nathan Reesman, priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

To be thankful is a choice, says Fr. Nathan. “Biblically, to go back in the tradition, giving thanks has a long long history. And it’s interesting how you can see its fingerprints all throughout the pages of scripture. All the way back to the earliest days when the Lord would command Abraham and his descendants to build an altar and give thanks, make an offering to [Him]. And this was carried through into the kings and the temple era, through the Psalms—prayers of thanksgiving.”

Giving thanks extends into all generations, faiths, and cultures of humanity. “Even the pagan neighbors of the Jews, they had their thanksgiving offerings, too. So clearly, part of religion, part of faith, part of humanity from its earliest days, there’s always been this idea that we’re supposed to be aware that what we have doesn’t come from us. That our whole existence is contingent or dependent upon somebody else’s providence,” explained Fr. Reesman.

Though we have a federal holiday in the United States that focuses on gratitude, it’s important that we make giving thanks a part of our daily lives. As the Preface to Eucharistic Prayer II states, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy.” Certainly we give thanks in times of abundance, but we also recognize that even when things don’t go our way and times are tough, the Lord continues to watch over us and protect us.


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