By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
Now that the quadrennial presidential election is over, we find ourselves on the threshold of a busy annual period jam packed with holidays and other observances.
- Nov. 24 is Thanksgiving Day.
- Nov. 27 is the first Sunday in Advent, a season that carries through Dec. 24 this year.
- Nov. 29 is Giving Tuesday, an observance scheduled right after our traditional post-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping binge; last year over 700,000 people donated over $116 million to their favorite causes.
- Dec. 25 is Christmas Day, when we celebrate the birth of our savior and the promise of peace and goodwill all over the world.
- Dec. 31 is New Year’s Eve, when we say a fond goodbye or good riddance to the recent past.
- Jan. 1 is New Year’s Day, when we greet a new year full of promise, despite the inevitable challenges.
While our days are typically frantic as we rush to do all of the things we have to accomplish – especially celebrating, shopping and socializing – I find this “Season of Seasons” a particularly good time to get a few really important things done.
Time for gratitude
I want to be especially grateful – and not just on Thanksgiving Day. Typically, I try to begin each day on Thanksgiving weekend by taking a little extra quiet time to count my blessings, really revel in them, and to thank God for all the goodness He has brought into my life – as well as that very life itself.
If I awake to look out at cold winds blowing snow around, rather than letting it get me down, I reflect on how blessed I am to be watching winter’s worst from the comfort of a home with central heating and indoor plumbing that both work.
It wasn’t that way for my ancestors going back only a couple of generations ago. And it isn’t that way today in many parts of the world – say in refugee camps in Syria and surrounding nations.
New Year trial period
Normally, I try to take a little time on one early morning over the extended Thanksgiving weekend to adopt some New Year resolutions. I do this not in reference to the calendar year, but to the new liturgical year which begins with the first Sunday in Advent. I figure that gives me about five weeks to see how good I do before I have to adopt my real New Year’s resolutions.
My experience in that five week trial period usually convinces me that I’m going to have to try harder to keep some of my resolutions in the new calendar year, and also that I might as well drop some of them from my list because, for some reason, I am not ready to honor them.
Time for generosity
Some of my gratitude gets expressed in generosity. As soon as I start counting my blessings with extra zeal during Thanksgiving weekend, I start making a list of organizations and causes to which I would like to say “thank you” or “keep up the good work” before the end of the year.
I see generosity in terms of either “paying it back” or “paying it forward.” As opportunities come to the fore and find a warm place in my heart, I discuss them with my wife. Sometimes we get online or open our check book immediately. More often we add it to a list that we’ll review again between Christmas and New Year’s Day so that we can take them into account on our tax return in the coming year.
We don’t give to get a tax break. But we take the ones that our giving allows.
I usually appreciate reliable and comfortable routines, especially during the wonderful time of the year that is fast approaching. But this year a big part of our winter routine is going to be trashed – and I’m thrilled at the prospect. That’s because it promises to be a wonderfully special time and because it is happening for the best of reasons.
Jane and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary before the end of the year. So in company with our five children, their spouses and our 16 grandchildren, before Christmas we’re going to spend a week together in a tropical paradise (or so we hope it is).
I can’t think of a better reason to be grateful than for the fruitful union with which God has blessed us. And I can’t think of a better bunch of people to celebrate it with than the fruits of that union -- our kids, their spouses and our grandkids. I am so, so very grateful for them and to them, for all the time we have been blessed to share and now for this special time together.
Surely these incredible blessings deserve some extra special generosity, and we’re determined that we will find a way to be as generous as we are grateful.
Take stock when you can
My prayer for you is that you’ll take time during the coming holiday season to take stock of your blessings – to count them, to savor them, and to generously express your gratitude for them.
Stop and think: That you are here is a huge blessing. That you are loved and have opportunities to love are yet more priceless blessings. Whatever your circumstances, you have been blessed.
No matter how abundant – or how meager – your blessings, when you stop to appreciate them your life is made better. Countless studies have shown that gratitude is good medicine for whatever ails us.
Here’s wishing you the time to enjoy bountiful doses of life-giving and health-giving gratitude in the busy days ahead.
“God loves a cheerful giver.”
2 Cor 9:7