By Sherye S. Green
Recently retired, I am learning a new rhythm to life. There’s a certain exhilaration in being free to make more choices about how I spend my time and with whom, about what I do and don’t do, and about how busy or leisurely is the pace of my life. A great gift of this season can be summed up in one simple word — choice. What a luxury!
This concept of choice has been rolling around in my mind and in my heart for some time, bumping into the walls of understanding and reason. This lavish allowance, the gift of free will my Creator has given to me, is one of the most mysterious aspects of His love for me. It is almost beyond my ability to comprehend. God could have fashioned me as some sort of robot, already preprogrammed to carry out His directives, but He didn’t. He’s left many of the choices of my life up to me.
The World War II period, particularly the Holocaust, has long fascinated me. What the historical record tells us about this incredibly dark season in world history when evil seemed to be winning on every front, is that many survivors of the concentration camps came out on the other side of their horrific ordeals with tenacity of spirit and hopefulness. I believe one weapon these brave souls used to their advantage, while incarcerated, was choice of thought.
One of the most poetic voices from this period was the Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl, himself interned in various German concentration camps, including infamous Auschwitz. In his groundbreaking book, Man’s Search for Meaning, written shortly after his liberation from Dachau prison camp by Allied forces, Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances…” These words, penned by a man who had lost his own freedom and who had also lost his wife, his parents, and his brother in the death camps, formed a mental framework for how Frankl would live the next 52 years of his life.
Each and every day, I have a choice to make as to what my attitude will be on any given number of topics. Now at a place in this middle age of life where I realize there may be more days behind me than there are before, I am aware, more than ever, that my use of this gift of choice can be a form of praise to my God. The choices I make about my attitude and my outlook on life will determine how sweet that song of thanksgiving may be to my Jesus.
Paul’s words to the first century church in Thessalonica have been a great encouragement to me, “Whatever happens, always be thankful. This is how God wants you to live in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 1:18 ERV). More than simply a mindset, this intentional fixing of my mind and my heart on God allows Him to teach me lessons in the school of life I would not otherwise learn. Thankfulness leaves the channels of my heart open to His guidance, direction and blessing.
Pastor and author John MacArthur speaks to the critical nature of this spirit of gratitude, “A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times.”
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, may you be blessed with the gifts of family and fellowship, and may your heart be overwhelmed with the realization of all God has done in your life. Enjoy the turkey and dressing. Relish the cranberry sauce and the homemade rolls. Savor the pecan and pumpkin pies. But don’t forget when you’re filling your plate, to help yourself to a generous serving of gratitude.
Make this the best Thanksgiving ever! Choose thankfulness.
Sherye S. Green is a Jacksonian and a wife, mother, and grandmother. She has enjoyed two careers — one in business, the other in education. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Church Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul and Tending the Garden of My Heart: Reflections on Cultivating a Life of Faith.