It is a truth once universally acknowledged that feasting on gratitude and fasting from grievance leads to happiness. Gratitude begets grace, and grace births joy, even better than happiness.
We count our blessings.
We hope and do not despair.
We give thanks, and in the giving we forget ourselves, a great grace.
And yet, it often seems that our very nature cries out to list our grievances, our hurts, our wrongs done us, without thinking about those we have hurt or wronged.
We are told to forgive those who trespass against us. But first we must confess our own failings, our own trespasses. We must repent and turn in a new direction. For when we examine our hearts with a mind to a good cleaning, we are able to see clearly. We remove the motes. And what do we see once we have confessed and repented? Once we have cleared the timber that obscured our vision?
We see that others aren’t so bad after all. We see that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. In fact those others whom we accused earlier, in our aggrieved state of anger and betrayal, we now love. We are brothers and sisters.
And so penitence leads to forgiveness. Forgiveness without penitence leads to pride, the root of all sin and we are back where we started, having removed one demon and allowed a legion of demons to come in.
I recently finished Wilfred M. McClay’s excellent history of America, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (New York: Encounter Books, 2019). He says in the Introduction, that “Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual identity.” As a nation we must know our failures and successes, have a historical consciousness (and conscience.) We must know ourselves. Just as an individual confesses and repents, so a nation confesses and repents. The individual hopes to see his pathway clearly, and the nation hopes for the same.
To repent, to learn from our mistakes, means to study our history, personal and public, citizen and nation. As Dr. McClay writes, “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.” (xii)
We must tell the story of America. We must learn it and pass it on to our children, or we will be nothing more than beasts, living in the present. Many of our youth have not studied history, at least those attending public schools, and the little they have learned has been thinly veiled propaganda. How will they know what America truly is, the ideals that ground her?
This Thanksgiving we recall our founders. The colonists were idealists, thinking to form a more perfect union. Having come from persecution in a faltering and fragmenting Europe, they wanted to create a better, more hopeful union of peoples in this new land. Their history told them that man was and is deeply flawed, and so in their new land they built new structures based on this knowledge. They wanted to secure freedom and dignity for each person, endowed by their creator, to protect and perfect with the rule of law, to check tyranny with balanced powers, and to ordain governors with the consent of the governed. These were carefully considered ideas formed from their own histories, their own stories.
The colonists were people of hope. But they knew too well that with man’s flawed nature, hope could turn to hopelessness, and disappointment if not despair could take root. They were realists.
I love the hope that grounds us as Americans. I love that we are idealists and we are willing to speak up for what we see as a more perfect union. I love that we are brave, that we inherently risk disappointment and failure, in order to engage in this great work of bettering our nation—not battering—of preserving the good and jettisoning the bad. We are risk-takers, for love risks. Love gives beyond hurting, until it can give no more. Love is happy to do so, for love is sacrificial. We love one another; we want what is best for one another. We love our country and want what is best for America.
When I consider the current divisions and angry discourse that many lament today, I also recognize the passionate idealism these divisions represent. We care enough to speak out. When such speech is threatened, we should worry. When such speech is bullied into silence, we should worry. When we no longer respect one another’s right to speak, we should be deeply concerned.
And when our history—America’s story—is rewritten to become propaganda for one viewpoint and then taught to our children in public institutions of learning, we should be greatly troubled.
My most recent novel, Angel Mountain, is about giving thanks. It is also about choice, freedom, respect, and human dignity. It’s about finding that path to heaven on earth. Those who have emigrated from tyrannical regimes understand the precious gifts that America offers her people. Such immigrants come yearning to breathe free, and they remind us how fortunate we are to live here. We are blessed to have a steady stream of immigrants crossing our borders, for they bring us the hope we may have forgotten. They remind us to remember who we are.
We are also blessed by the rule of law, the agreements we have made with one another that we observe as citizens. These common agreements preserve our dignity as individuals, protect our property, and safeguard our communities. These commonly assented rules decide how we are to live together. They are unique to Western democracies and those so influenced.
Our children must learn about these great blessings. They must learn America’s story—her past and her present—in order to safeguard these graces. We have the duty and obligation to the next generations to redeem the present with knowledge of the past. We have the duty to keep America a land of hope, not despair. Our children must be shown America’s trespasses as well as America’s triumphs, her darkness as well as her light. Only then can we shine that light to light up the darkness. Only then can our nation see clearly the path to be taken.
Dr. McClay has given us a great gift, for he holds a mirror up to our nation, so that we can see ourselves as a union of peoples and cultures with a shared history, with our many hopes and dreams. This reality helps us choose a way forward.
And for this I give thanks this Thanksgiving. I give thanks for all those who speak the truth about our great nation, the good and the bad. Only by knowing both, can we know who we are.
There is no room for grievance, for self-entitlements. There is only room for gratitude for the blessings of this life on this earth in this country we call America, founded on ideals formed from the past that must inform future. There is only gratitude for the freedoms we know and strive to protect.
And with such gratitude, all is grace. All is happiness. All is joy.
All is thanksgiving.