Thank God for the Things You Never Think About. Like Your Toes and Indoor Plumbing
A Thanksgiving for systematically giving thanks for all the things we never thank God for
Are you breathing? Could you just check? You are? Great. Okay. So here’s my proposal for your Thanksgiving day: Thank God you’re alive. Not that you’re happy or healthy or doing well otherwise. Just that you’re actually alive and not, not alive.
We Don’t Have to Be Here
I don’t think about this very much and I probably wouldn’t think about it at all if I hadn’t read the great Christian writer G. K. Chesterton. He was big on this. Among my favorite quotes: “When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs? We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?”
I hope I’d sense the gift of life, but I’m not sure I’d see it clearly enough to think about it. Life keeps you so busy that you don’t remember that you’re living.
The truth is: We don’t have to be here. As the philosophers put it, we’re all contingent beings in a contingent world. We depend for our life on something else — or rather Someone else. God not only created man because he loves man in general but he created you and me because he loves us, and he keeps us in existence because he loves us. That’s a gift any way you look at it.
We read in old books about men being given keys to the city and what was called “the freedom of the city.” It meant that even when the city was feeling defensive and locked the gates, they could let themselves in and wander about at will and enjoy everything the city had to offer. God gave us the key to the world when he made us.
A Thanksgiving Suggestion
What I suggest for Thanksgiving is … not that you asked, but if you’ve read this far you must be interested … is to sit down in a quiet place by yourself, some time in the morning before the day gets busy and certainly before the kickoff of the Philadelphia-Detroit game at 12:30. (And go Lions, because another Eagles loss will put them another half game behind the Giants and that is A GOOD THING.) When you’re sitting down, pick maybe three things from the list below and think about each one as systematically as you can. Think of all its aspects and thank God for each of them.
Let’s take “body” for an example. Have you ever realized what an amazing thing the human body is? I’d never thought about it until I came across an essay by the writer Andre Dubus, who’d lost both his legs after being hit by a car. He said, basically (I don’t have the book to hand because I gave it away when my wife decided we had too many books in the house, and though she was wrong I weeded my books anyway, which was mostly a mistake, not that I’m bitter) … anyway, he asked readers to imagine that they’d only have in heaven what they’d thanked God for on earth.
I think he asked if we’d ever thought to thank God for our hands and arms. I hadn’t. Never occurred to me.
I knew to thank God for the obvious things. I remember once, as a barely Christianized teenager, driving down a country road in a snow storm very late at night. I knew what I was doing and was creeping along when the car broke traction and began to spin slowly around as it glided down the road. It finally settled with the softest of landings into a snow bank and I reversed out and went home. I could easily have hit a tree and been badly hurt on a road that few people travelled, and could have laid injured in the wrecked till morning. Or just gotten stuck in the bitter cold for hours. Or I might have been driving on the highway when the car lost traction and been hit by a truck. It may have been the laws of physics or God’s hand that saved me, but I knew to say a prayer of thanks.
But about my hands and arms. Nope. Never thought of thanking God for those. But they are actually really, really useful. And incredibly well designed. If your right arm was a gadget you’d gotten for Christmas, you’d be happy as a clam. (If you’re a guy, and a nerd. Everyone else, think up your own examples.) The right arm is a thing to thank God for, the way you’d thank him for keeping you from hitting at tree on a country road at one in the morning.
So if you choose body, maybe start with your toes and think about what gifts they are and thank God for them. If you’re old enough, they probably look funny, but you’d look funnier without them, and they help you walk and run and get from the couch to the refrigerator and back during time outs. (Go Detroit!) Then think about your foot, and your ankle, and your calf — think how useful it is just in connecting your ankle and your knee and letting you move like a human being — and your knee, and so on all the way up to the bald spot. (If you’re an older male with an unfortunate generic inheritance.) Include the parts you don’t talk about, because they are fearfully and wondrously made.
Even if, like me, some parts no longer work as well as they did, you’ll still find that God’s given you a greater gift than you ever realized, and you ought to thank him for it. Every part of your body is God’s gift to you.
- Physical and intellectual gifts
- Grandparents and other relatives
- Childhood friends
- Adulthood friends
- Husband or Wife
- Children and pets
- Good influences (pastors, friends, writers, especially writers, etc.)
- Strangers who’ve been kind to you
- Neighborhood and town, including neighbors, businessmen, police, etc.
- Schools and teachers
- Job and co-workers (this may just be “thank you I’ve got one”)
- Church (local and national), including pastor(s) and fellow members
- The Scriptures
- Aid, public and private
- Public infrastructure (the sewage system, for example, because just think about life without it)
- Technology that makes your life better
- Modern medicine
- The Detroit Lions (if they win)
For another article on Thanksgiving by this writer, see his Thank God For Life, Even When It Feels Like a Gift You Didn’t Want.