The following article appeared in the November 11th edition of The Clinton Chronicle in my column, Faith, Family, and Freedom:
I love the beauty of the leaves as October turns to November, reminding us that autumn is passing and winter approaching. The attempt by stores to sell Christmas to us way-too-early aggravates me yearly. The pursuit of the dollar tempts us to overlook one of the year’s most important observations: Thanksgiving.
Here is one holiday that avoids commercialism, brings people together, offers fantastic food, and calls us to forsake our selfishness and instead practice gratitude. Don’t lose the spirit of Thanksgiving. Claim it, prepare for it, and practice the art of that holiday.
As we plan for Thanksgiving this month, here are a few ways to intentionally lead your family to be thankful.
1. Create a Thanksgiving tree.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I tell my family, “Get out the construction paper. It is time to make our Thanksgiving tree.” Don’t worry. It is a simple project. We cut out a brown trunk, making several tree limbs. Then each child cuts leaves out of various colors. The goal is for every person present at our house on Thanksgiving to have five leaves.
Following the Thanksgiving meal, we pass out the leaves and pens. Each person writes one thing for which they are thankful on each leaf. After a few moments, we go around the table and read our leaves. They don’t have to all be spiritual or serious things. A typical year includes gratitude for health, salvation, and our church as well as action figures, the treehouse, and tickets to Dollywood.
We tape the tree and leaves onto a prominent wall in our house, leaving it up for several months. It serves as a regular reminder of God’s blessings.
2. Remember spiritual heroes.
Take time the month of November to teach your children about some of the great spiritual heroes - and also to take time to remember some of our own heroes in our lives. Don't just let these days float by as missed opportunities while the culture is already trying to make money off of Christmas. Redeem this time and use it as a stepping stone into the holiday season. Spend the month of November leading up to Thanksgiving learning some new spiritual heroes - and being thankful for some familiar ones.
Talk around the supper table about a godly person from history. Or, share some stories from your own pilgrimage about heroes in your life. The website Christian History Institute is a great resource for learning about people who have gone before us. For several years I have used Barbara Rainey’s book Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember to teach our children about the spiritual heritage we have as Americans from the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving.
3. Engage in meaningful conversation.
One educator said that we live in a day of hurried loneliness. We have hundreds of facebook friends but not two with whom we think and share deeply. Families rush from one activity to another. To some people, the idea of a family sitting down together and leisurely sharing a meal is an idea from a Norman Rockwell painting.
Dads and Moms, we must plan to make meaningful conversation happen. Dennis Rainey, President of Family Life Today, says that once he asked his children to give one word that summed up their dad. They replied, “intentionality.”
Without intentionality, family devotions, meaningful conversation, and disciplines of thanksgiving won’t happen. We will just stay busy.
As Thanksgiving approaches, stop for a few moments and make a plan. Ask, “How will I intentionally help my family practice gratitude the next two weeks and have some meaningful conversations?
That will produce beauty greater than the autumn leaves.