Next week those of us in the US will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It’s a little harder to get in the holiday spirit this year, what with Starbucks red cups and terrorist attacks in Paris!
Still, it is Thanksgiving. It seems quite common to hold a genuine feast on Thanksgiving Day, even pause to pray and thank God for the bountiful blessings, then scurry out the next day and shop to the dropping point.
So how thankful can we actually be if we must always buy more? Granted, I realize much of the after-Thanksgiving shopping is connected with Christmas, but the American way of life has become that of the consumer. Once, not so long ago, we made things. Now we consume things.
And what’s more, that’s considered the good life. During the Great Recession, the powers that be seemed to believe the solution to righting the ship was to get America away from saving and back into spending.
While I’m not saying that spending is “bad” or that our spirituality should be measured by how much we save, I do think there’s a point where we should evaluate our attitude to see if we care more about living the life of abundance rather than living the abundant life.
Not long ago I read the Biblical account of the exodus—God’s people leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. On their journey God provided their food—manna:
The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.
– Ex 16:31
Wafers with honey. Yet a bunch of people who enjoyed this gracious provision as they traveled across the wilderness found fault with it.
The sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
– Num 11:4b-6
For the moment, give them the benefit of the doubt—they were tired of the same diet meal after meal, day after day. But look what they were doing—remembering what they’d enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that Egypt had just experienced devastating plagues that had wiped out virtually all vegetation. Between the plague of hail and the plague of locust, were there any cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic for them to go back to?
The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled in all the territory of Egypt; they were very numerous. There had never been so many locusts, nor would there be so many again. For they covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every plant of the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Thus nothing green was left on tree or plant of the field through all the land of Egypt.
– Exodus 10:14- 15
Granted, the hail did not fall in Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Let’s say for the moment that the locusts didn’t go there either, though the text doesn’t specify this. How was it that Israel had the food they remembered so fondly when the rest of Egypt was decimated? Obviously the answer was, God.
What they had in Egypt, then, came from the hand of God, and what they had in the wilderness came from the hand of God. Consequently, when they cried discontentedly against the manna they were “forced” to eat, they essentially were telling God He wasn’t doing a good job of caring for them.
In other words, discontent is actually an accusation against God.
Yet our entire existence seems to be made up of striving and struggling and trying and working. Oh, wait. Wasn’t that what God told Adam life would be like outside the Garden?
So the striving and all isn’t the problem per se. That’s the condition into which we’ve been born. But responding with discontent seems to me to be a choice—one that clashes with a genuine spirit of thankfulness.
Minus a few changes, this post first appeared here in November 2010.