Opinion: During tough times, Thanksgiving is a core principle to live by

Stancy Adams, Robert Bruttell and Raman Singh

If the country could stop to be grateful during a great Civil War, so can we.

Many of us think of Thanksgiving as a time to share a bountiful meal with family and friends. And for early American colonists, Thanksgiving dinner was a celebration of a successful harvest. But the broader meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday is best described in President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a “National Day of Thanksgiving” after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg. Aug. 6, 1863 was to be a day to commemorate all that the nation had gone through while giving thanks to God.

His proclamation expressed sorrow at the loss of life and the destruction many communities experienced during the Civil War. “It is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father and the power of His hand equally in these triumphs and in these sorrows,” he said.

Abraham Lincoln's proclamation expressed sorrow at the loss of life and the destruction many communities experienced during the Civil War, the authors write.

Lincoln looked ahead to a time when “… the whole nation, through the paths of repentance and submission to the Divine Will” would return to “the perfect enjoyment of Union and fraternal peace.” The president encouraged Americans to “render homage to the Divine Majesty, for the wonderful things that he has done on the nation’s behalf” in their “customary places of worship and in the forms approved by their own conscience.”

As our country struggles with a devastating pandemic, a bitter election and racial and social divisions as well as unprecedented wildfires and storms, feeling grateful may be challenging. But many religions consider it a core principle.

The Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — all cite the importance of feeling grateful for our existence refreshed through each night’s sleep and begun again each day. According to Psalm 118:24, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Another aspect of gratitude, as described by several religions, is being satisfied with what one has and who one is as an individual. The Sikh faith teaches the importance of being thankful for every breath and aspect of human life including air, water, food and shelter, which are considered immeasurable gifts. A Sikh belief is that “dwelling together in gratitude while serving each other in remembrance of the One within everyone will increase our impact and legacy on earth.”

Buddhists believe that gratitude eliminates the sense of not having enough and thereby eliminates greed. Buddhism also teaches that practicing gratitude has a direct connection to spreading compassion and developing patience.

Mental health experts claim that being grateful for our strengths, rather than dwelling on problems, provides a foundation to move forward and live in a positive way. Even now, our community has much to be grateful for — especially the dedication of health care workers and the kindness of people to each other during the pandemic.

President Lincoln’s proclamation of a day for Thanksgiving reminds us that especially during momentous times, it is important to take time for reflection, remembrance and gratitude. We are resilient and we must be thankful for that and for the other strengths that will help us achieve a compassionate, healthy community reflecting our best values.

The Rev. Stancy Adams chairs the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit; Robert Bruttell is vice chairman and Raman Singh is president.