Most people I know love thanksgiving — the food, the social gatherings, the warm holiday spirit that starts to build with Christmas and New Years right around the corner. For a lot of us it’s a joy-filled time to gather with loved ones to connect, practice gratitude, and whip out the stretchy pants to eat our weight in stuffing. Some households may even practice thankfulness by going around the dinner table asking each person to share what they’re grateful for. Objectively speaking, it can be a pretty pleasant time.
But what gets me every year, is the zero-to-100 turnaround in which this spirit of “gratitude” immediately spirals into desire for more, the second midnight hits and the Black Friday sales go live (sometimes even earlier than midnight!). Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that it’s awesome to save money, get killer deals on otherwise expensive items, and maybe purchase something you already planned to buy but at a discounted price. Some people even enjoy the thrill of competing with the crowds to see what they can get despite the thousands of others looking for the same thing.
And maybe it’s the fact that I used to work in retail and experienced the flip side of this day-of-deals, but it’s kind of made me wonder if there’s something big that many of us are missing as we enter into the holiday season. Or perhaps something that we’re getting too much of.
It may begin to manifest itself with the over-eating of turkey and mashed potatoes, but what the commercialization of Black Friday and the holidays proceeding tells me; is that this overconsumption doesn’t simply end after our last piece of pumpkin pie. We may have just “practiced gratitude” at the Thanksgiving dinner table – but if only hours later we’re lining up to purchase the latest phone, tv, or designer jacket; it should probably lead one to ask themselves if there was really contentment there in the first place.
And one might say that the Black Friday shopping is for the sake of loved ones, because you’re planning to buy Christmas presents for them anyway – but isn’t this now insinuating that what they have is not enough? Let’s think about how this plays out even with the concept of Thanksgiving as a holiday.
There’s something to be said about how the spirit of overconsumption quite literally manifested itself in the differing interpretation a Native person might have regarding Thanksgiving (i.e., the concept of manifest destiny), than any of us who’ve had the privilege of immigrating here in the last few generations.
Was the mass genocide of Native folks not a direct result of wanting more? More land, more control, more power? Of what had already been given still not being enough? In a way, our country was founded on the spirit of overconsumption at the cost of other’s livelihood.
Sometimes our desire for more manifests itself in physical violence – but other times, it presents itself in more indirect, inconspicuous forms.
This constant desire to have more, to over-consume; be it food, experiences, culture, or tangible items — it’s kind of the backbone of our nation. It’s what fuels consumerism and comparison, keeping many of us discontent with what we already have. It absolutely makes sense that this would be something that as a society, we’d struggle with. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t have this same value engrained in my own lifestyle and habits…anyone who knows me KNOWS I’m a sucker for Instagram adds, and you bet they’ve been targeting me advertising Black Friday deals for weeks.
But in all seriousness, this isn’t where we have to stay.
True gratitude comes from a place of realizing that what we’ve already been given is more than enough. True gratitude serves as a catalyst to radical generosity. When we live life with a sense of “plenty” we naturally feel the urge to share that with others. Rather than being in a state of constant consumption, we learn to receive what we need, and give our excess to others.
And “plenty” might look different from person-to-person. For most of my life, “plenty” took the form of quality time and a listening ear to hear the stories of others. At other times, it meant giving tangibly to those I encountered, whether it be food, money, or personal items.
Even if it appears that what you have isn’t much, “giving until it hurts” doesn’t quite hurt when you believe that what you’ve already been given is plenty.
A few years ago while on staff with a local campus ministry, I lived at a shelter for women and families experiencing homelessness a few miles outside of Seattle. The nature of the program was geared toward teaching Biblical justice to college students, by having participants live and do life alongside those who might be considered marginalized in the greater Puget Sound area. Upon entering into the program, the group I was a part of had a pretty homogenous attitude – all of us wanting to “do good” for the homeless community in the shelter we were living at.
Our intentions weren’t wrong, per se, but we were certainly humbled as the weeks went by. Though we went into the program seeking to serve the women and children at the shelter, we were regularly astounded by the generosity and kindness that they showed toward us. Whether it be through encouraging us with their powerful stories, literally gifting us with meaningful personal items, or generously sacrificing a cafeteria dessert or sides; these women practiced radical generosity without second-thought.
And this is not to say that ensuring one’s personal needs being met is unimportant. It is absolutely essential that every person have food, clothing, a place to sleep, and healthy relationships. Part of the reason we’re called to practice radical generosity, is for to provide for those who are clearly in-need of these necessary things.
But this should lead us to really ask ourselves, how much is truly enough? And of what we already have, what can we offer to those around us? Maybe it means simply taking a break from shopping this weekend, to practice contentment and gratefulness. It could look like re-assessing personal consumption patterns to see what conscious-consumerism might look like in your purchasing habits. Perhaps it looks like doing some research and seeking to understand why someone else might interpret Thanksgiving differently. Or perhaps it means practicing radical generosity and giving what you have to nurture the people and relationships in your life.
Whatever it be, we all have something to give. And we all have something to receive, should we make room for it.