I have a sign in my kitchen which has been there for more than a decade. It reads: “GIVE THANKS: Oh Thou, who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one more thing—a grateful heart.”
As I was looking at the sign the other day, I realized that I had no idea where the quote originated. Other than the slightly flowery wording and the outdated Thou, the sentiments could’ve been written at almost any time in history. With a little help from the Internet, I found the name of the author of those words which appear on my kitchen sign.
It was written by a clergyman/poet in the 1600’s named George Herbert. He had been born into a wealthy family, but Herbert had set aside his family’s prestigious position to pursue a life of academic and religious service. He was employed at Oxford college, where he didn’t bring in much money. Some of the letters Herbert wrote to his mother survived. In them, we read of his ongoing illness, which required him to eat a restricted and expensive diet. Herbert wrote that he was in constant anxiety about money and his health. He wrote his mother, “I always feared sickness more than death, because sickness has made me unable to perform those Offices for which I came into the world.”
It’s interesting to pick up a piece of poetry or prose and instantly get insight into the writer’s state of mind. No matter that it was penned so many centuries ago, George Herbert’s “Give Thanks…” seems to be a reminder to himself as much as an exhortation to others. He was telling us to declare God’s unlimited generosity. Be thankful. And for that gratitude to seep all the way down to our hearts, we need God’s help to get it there. Depending on our present difficulties, we may need even more of God’s assistance to actually live a thankful life. It’s just the unfortunate reality that most of us aren’t naturally grateful creatures.
Three hundred years later, acclaimed and beloved author C.S. Lewis was also on faculty at Oxford. He left us a treasure trove of his words and thoughts through his books and letters and sermons. In a letter Lewis wrote to an Italian priest, he said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”
Whether it’s the Psalmist’s call to sing to the Lord with grateful praise or the Apostle Paul’s charge to give thanks to God the Father for everything, or if it’s a poor college professor’s reminder to ask for help in appreciating our blessings or an author’s words about gratitude in the face of both good times and bad, this Thanksgiving let’s all pray for God to give us a grateful heart.