Thanksgiving causes us to look back in time and to look around us at today. The goal in looking is to be thankful. This surely is a very good thing, one which should be more than an annual occurance in the living of life.
What might be the downside? Possibly a failure to look ahead, to look to the future at what might be possible. How might we continue to grow, to become more than we were yesterday or are today?
Lewis Joseph Sherrill wrote in The Struggle of the Soul (1951) that in nature there is an “inward propulsion to grow.” He saw it in plant life. When a seed is “placed in suitable surroundings,” it will “germinate, swell, send out roots, send up a sprout, break into leaf, and eventually complete its cycle by producing seed again after its kind. This it does as if by a sort of inner compulsion. So strong is this compulsion that, in growing, a tree, for example, will lift, push, or split heavy obstructing objects in order to complete itself.”
In animal life there is similar inborn movement toward growth and change. “A young bird, for instance, acts as if there were an inner compulsion to learn to fly, to leave the nest, to sing, to mate, to feed and defend its own young, to migrate, and so on.”
As you might expect, Sherrill sees this among people, as well. “And in the human being we have also to reckon with a comparable kind of inward propulsion to grow, that is, to pass through certain stages as one moves toward the complete fulfillment of life.” (p.8)
There is, however, a darker side to the human tale.
“If this were all there is to the story of the human psyche, there would be little to human history except the recounting of the idyllic tale of happiness and progress. But the psyche knows another motive, one which seems to be peculiar to the human being, apparently not being found either in plant or animal life. It runs exactly counter to the inward propulsion to growth. It is a dread and fear of growth, a shrinking back from the hardships, the risks and dangers, the suffering, which are involved in each stage of growth.” (p. 10)
Reading that last sentence, I thought of Frodo in T. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He did not shrink back from the hardships, risks, dangers and suffering associated with destruction of the evil ring. He grew as a man in the story, if not in height. He longed for the Shire of his past, but moved forward anyway. Yes, he’s only a fictional character, but good imaginary creations can illustrate truth about real life.
You may recall the story from the Hebrew Bible of Lot’s wife turning back to look back at the city from which the family had just fled. She turned to salt for disobeying God’s combat to look forward and not look back. Sherrill says the following:
“… [T]he soul takes on the role of Lot’s wife. Looking backward to the good things about to be left behind, and unable to go forward, one is immobilized into a pillar of salt which cannot escape from its own desolation.” (p. 10-11)
Some of us have turned to salt. We have looked back to the good times in our past and are afraid to move forward into new challenges. This is sad, but it’s more than sad. “In the last analysis this, as much as many other things of which the term is used, is rebellion against God.” (p. 11)
As we give thanks for the past and the present, may we give thanks for what God still has ahead of us if we will but be strong and move forward with power and purpose. Service is much preferred to rebellion, or should be.