If you spend much time around me, there’s a pretty good chance that at some point, you’ll hear me talk about (and maybe even quote) my favorite theologian and hero of the faith, Howard Thurman. So, it comes as no surprise that a sermon of his has come to mind as I sit down to reflect on Thanksgiving. The specific idea that I want to unpack here is Thurman’s conviction that memory is a gift and that it is best used accordingly.

Around this time of year, we are often prompted to remember and give special attention to the things in our lives that we ought to be grateful for. In fact, just last Sunday, we were presented with a way to practice gratitude daily through the use of our church app. Pastor John did a great job emphasizing the life-changing possibilities that are to be found in practicing gratitude and that gratitude can allow us to “see a bigger picture.”

That being said, I’m often convicted that I’m not exactly breaking new ground when it comes to most of the things I express thanks for year after year (and I bet I’m not alone). Luckily, as a children’s minister, I get many chances to marvel at the ability that children have to not only quickly recall good things that they have experienced, but also, to enthusiastically point out the good they see in the world around them, even in things they have not yet experienced. You see, it comes naturally when practicing gratitude to focus on the many tangible things in our lives that we have experienced in a positive way or feel some sense of possession over; in other words, saying things like my abilities, or my resources, or even my people. Let me be perfectly clear that we should, in fact, not neglect giving thanks for these things, but what about the people we have yet to experience in a positive way? What about the things we do not have control over or the situations that we are simply just not comfortable thinking about? Are we using the gift of memory in a way that expands our horizons for all that we could truly be thankful for?

Consider these words by Howard Thurman, “Now I have two suggestions to make about memory as a gift. The first is a warning that unless we are very careful, we will use our memory…to store up things that will give us trouble in the future. It is very interesting to notice how we can slip into the mood of remembering all the slights, all the hurts, all the little ways by which individuals tried to make life difficult for us. We store them up and introduce into the existence of memory the principle of negative discrimination.…The alternative suggestion is that we plan to introduce into our memory pattern, the principle of excellence. It is quite possible to go through our days on the hunt for the good things in people, sniffing around to find the worthful thing, the meaningful thing, the positive thing.…I do not say that the negative thing is not there, but I let the principle of excellence, the positive discrimination, lift out from my storehouse the things about you that make me glad that you are alive, and glad that somehow, in the circling movement of the process of life, you and I met” (164-5, The Growing Edge).

As we seek to become better practitioners of gratitude this Thanksgiving (and beyond), may we give thanks for the gift of memory and the call it puts upon our lives to open our arms wider so that we might have even more to be thankful for than we once thought.

In truth and love,

Matt Waller