A new song titled “What I’m Thankful For” – a duet performed by Garth Brooks and James Taylor – offers a needed reminder that the Christmas season is about much more than “making a list and checking it twice.”
“What I’m thankful for ain’t on no list, for it only in my heart exists,” the song begins. “For time has helped me understand, the things I can’t hold in my hand,” Brooks sings.
What more important reminder in a society driven by sales at every major (and minor) holiday, including Black Friday deals creeping into Thanksgiving night promotions?
What better practice on Christmas morning than to reflect on “the things I can’t hold in my hand,” even as we find our most-desired presents sitting under the tree?
In verse two, listeners are urged to remember and give thanks for those who have gone before – something many churches already make space for on All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and at “Blue Christmas” services.
Brooks gives thanks “for those that came before my turn, from whom I’ve gathered lessons learned,” noting that their life and legacy “light the path that lies ahead.”
What better way to practice humility than by acknowledging that none of us is self-made, that we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and walked along side us?
As the song shifts voices with Taylor picking up verse three, the focus shifts to concern for children and future generations: “For our children hear this prayer: ‘Let love surround them everywhere.'”
What prayer could be more necessary amid global conflicts – in Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria, Syria and South Sudan to name a few – that are impacting historic numbers of people, displacing 50 million children from their homes and placing them “among the world’s most vulnerable”?
The hope for children worldwide to be surrounded by love is vital when conflicts and the resulting crises become back-page news, or worse, unnoticed background noise, due to their protracted nature.
I hope the song’s prayer stays on our minds throughout 2017, as the world continues to be haunted by “wars and rumors of wars … nations rising against nations … and in various places … earthquakes and famines” (Matthew 24:6).
I pray that it spurs goodwill people of faith to continue finding ways to translate this prayer into action by providing food, clothing, housing and education to those whose lives are disrupted by conflict and engaging in peacemaking initiatives.
Taylor’s next line expands the listener’s vision once more: “And may their children’s children know the one from whom all blessings flow.”
In a culture too enamored with immediate gratification and myopic, self-focused vision, what is more vital to the world’s future than shifting our attention to those yet unborn?
This is first step in assessing how our present lifestyles and actions will impact the future for good or ill.
Perhaps 2017 could be a year for renewed and expanded commitment to care for our common home, guided by Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical “Laudato Si” and drawing on EthicsDaily.com’s creation care resources.
By doing so, we seek to fulfill one of the earliest divine imperatives given to humanity – to be good stewards of creation (Genesis 2:4-25) – and to make it possible for our “children’s children [to] know the one from whom all blessings flow.”
The song’s chorus encapsulates the message of the season, offering a word of hope to counter winter’s darkness and a statement of truth to contrast the growing influence of “fake news”: “I’m thankful for the Lord above, the gift of his unending love, and the promise kept that there is something more. These are the things I’m thankful for.”
I’m grateful for these reminders and challenges. I plan to keep the song in my playlist throughout the year so that I don’t forget.