A national holiday traditionally believed to have begun with the first European settlers of American soil, Thanksgiving is about more than good food and family. Centuries before Christ was born, cultures feasted and paid tribute to their various gods as an expression of gratitude for a successful fall harvest.
Each year, the nation of Israel celebrates Sukkot, an event better known as the “Festival of Booths,” which commemorates the Israelite’s wilderness wanderings after being freed from Egypt under Moses. But because of Christ’s death and resurrection, Christians have the greatest reason to be thankful.
Dr. Jason Ormiston, School of Religion faculty and pastor of Palmetto Baptist Church, said, “Praise reminds us of who God is and what He has done.” Megan King, a sophomore theatre arts major, said she thinks it’s more natural for a Christian to give thanks than it is for a non-Christian “I believe it is more natural for a Christian to give thanks than a non-Christian,” she said. “Not only do we have more reason to be thankful because of our salvation from sin, but we also have a changed heart from one that is selfish to one that seeks to glorify God.”
King said that part of glorifying God is praising Him and thanking Him for what He has done for us and by loving His people and thanking them for the ways in which they have demonstrated love to us.
Sarah Kanoun, a sophomore English major, said Christians have a greater ability and incentive to be thankful. “Other people know what thankfulness is of course, but I don’t think anyone ever truly understands the concept until he or she has been saved and has that to be thankful for,” she said.
Harrison Miller, a student in the theatre arts master’s degree program, perceives thankfulness differently. “If anything, I think Christians can feel more entitled to the good in their lives than the unsaved because of their relationship with God, and they forget that the grace He gives cost Him dearly,” he said.
Miller acknowledged the fact that he’s given grace every day to do things he could never do otherwise.“My whole life has been defined by the grace God and others have given to me,” he said. “I’m thankful because I am right here.”
Despite the challenges college students may face in their personal, academic or spiritual lives, thankfulness allows them to recall God’s goodness. Nathan Pittack, a student in the theatre arts master’s degree program, said, “Being thankful keeps our perspectives in check.”
Katherine Albert, a sophomore nursing major, said she thinks thankfulness is important because it is a change of focus. “Thankfulness takes the focus off of yourself and your problems and puts it instead on all of the things God has blessed you with.”
Sam Stephens, an English GA and master of divinity student, said thankfulness comes from a heart that notices blessings. “If we’re not thankful, then we’re not really aware of our own lives,” he said. “When we give thanks, we force ourselves to look outside of ourselves, and emptying yourself of yourself is the definition of true life. Thanklessness is lifelessness.”
Alex Viscioni, member of the communication faculty, said thankfulness cultivates a spirit of humility. “When you acknowledge that you are thankful for something, you’re acknowledging that you are receiving something that you did not merit but are being given anyway,” he said.
Christians can be thankful for many different things, but the reason and the Object for gratitude are always the same. Kate Riedy, a student in the theatre arts master’s degree program, said, “We don’t deserve anything so anything that brings us joy is a gift from a loving God,”
Wilbur Mauk, a senior theatre arts major, said he is thankful because he has been blessed beyond what he could imagine. “God always seems to remind me of that in some of the darkest times and it is always refreshing to know that and be thankful,” he said.
Zach Daab, a junior criminal justice major, said, “The only way I’ve found to consistently push through is to shift my focus from what’s right in front of me to what’s above me.”
Pittack said he tries to look at any circumstance, particularly trials, and ask himself what God is doing with the situation. “I have to remind myself that trials are a means of grace,” he said. “They’re one of the biggest methods He uses for sanctification. Growing more like Jesus doesn’t happen without being stretched, and that process, aside from salvation itself, is actually the greatest grace we could ever receive.”
Albert said that she tries to think of people in the Bible when she feels discontent. “Often when I’m discouraged and unthankful, I think of all the people in the Bible like Paul and Daniel who had situations much harder than mind, yet they still found reasons to be thankful and joyful,” Albert said. “If I stop focusing on myself and start looking at what God has done and is doing, it pushes me to have a spirit of thankfulness.”
Mauk said he tries to sit back and think about what God has given him. “I look back at how I was helped in the past get over difficult situations and was able to come through that,” he said. “That always helps me. Just taking a second to remember how I have been blessed.”
For Stephens, gratitude means counting God’s gifts. “Decide to thank God for them when you don’t feel like it,” he said. “Thank God for the good things and for His help through the bad things. Then spread those gifts to others. Thankfulness is a choice that results in loving action.”
Mauk said thankfulness can be as simple as saying “thank you” to the various workers on campus. Additionally, he said thankfulness can look like setting aside a moment to meditate on all the opportunities God has given to you.
Matthew Seest, a junior cinema production major, said an attitude of gratitude is a good way to avoid the temptation to be self-sufficient. “As soon as you reach beyond yourself, you acknowledge your own inability to do everything,” he said. “Then you can reflect on how God has led you to this point, you can think of how your friends and family that have been praying for you and seeking to encourage you, and praise God for His provision of people and guidance. Get outside your own head. Acknowledge your weakness. Count your blessings.”
Kanoun encourages students to look for things you normally wouldn’t see as blessings. “Be grateful for the people in your life,” he said. “Thank God for the fact that you have the ability to do the things you can, even if that isn’t much.”
Andrew Harper, a senior IT major, said it’s important to remember what God has done, is doing and will do. “Focus on the blessings in your life right now such as your friends here at school,” he said.
Mady Bell, a junior theatre arts major, looks forward to getting caught up on sleep and focusing on what God has done.
Stephens said he’s ready for a break from school.
Seest said he’s looking forward to breathing, not having to worry about assignments, and spending time relaxing and hanging out with his family.
For Miller, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to look for ways to help others.
Riedy said she’s looking forward to Thanksgiving break—particularly the moment right before the Thanksgiving feast begins. “That moment when everyone has dished food and you’ve just finished saying the blessing—there’s anticipation in the air and such a feeling of joy and connection to everyone,” she said.
Carter Henderson, a sophomore composite social studies education major, said that, because God has given us so much, we should have no other reaction than being thankful for what He has done.
For Pittack, Thanksgiving is a great time to enjoy good food and to reflect on the past year and to recall God’s blessings.
“Okay, I’ll admit it,” Pittack said. “I love the food! Apple pie? Yes please! But even more than that, it’s a time to reflect on where you’ve come in a year. What’s changed? How have you grown? What has God taught you? It reminds you of God’s transcendent working in your life above a day-to-day level.”
Miller encouarged students to look to God over Thanksgiving break. “Get perspective,” he said. “Look at where you were and where you’re headed. See the small things. Remember.”