I’ll never forget the “Thankfulness Game” my friend Sarah and I used to play in high school. It all started one particular day when we were driving down a busy road and seemed to be hitting EVERY red light. I was sitting in the passenger seat and randomly said how thankful I was for the red light we were stopped at. I was being sarcastic of course! Sarah replied with something she was thankful for, totally unrelated to us. We then started going back and forth with random things we were thankful for and that spontaneous activity of thankfulness birthed the “Thankfulness Game.”

From that day on, we played the “Thankfulness Game” whenever we found ourselves driving around town, or sitting in class bored. We simply took turns sharing something we were grateful for. Some were serious and legit; others not so much. We could be thankful for a driver dancing in their car; the uniqueness of a store sign; the color of a car; a teacher who assigned too much homework over break; or for a complete stranger brave enough to wear a mismatched outfit in public. That’s how the game went with us. The “Thankfulness Game” encompassed anything in proximity to us at that particular moment, plus events happening in that season of our lives. Back and forth we’d go, finding things to be grateful for. We played off each other. It rarely made sense. It often included things that had no connection to our lives. It was actually quite silly of us to partake in. But it developed something in us. It did something to our attitudes. The “Thankfulness Game” transformed us.

It’s now the week of Thanksgiving. This is hands down, my favorite week of the year. I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. When I was younger and attended the elementary school my church ran, we had a bunch of traditions on the last day before Thanksgiving break. First and foremost, we were allowed to come to school dressed up as a Pilgrim or Indian. I absolutely loved that aspect of the day! Our teachers scheduled fun classroom activities before a special Thanksgiving chapel was held. A full blown Thanksgiving meal followed chapel. We then enjoyed more festive activities before the school day was over. Best of all, my dad would pull my siblings and I out of school a bit early and take us to a movie. It was awesome! It would be dark by the time we left the theater, and we’d come home with a refilled bucket of popcorn for my mom to enjoy as she was in full preparation mode for Thanksgiving Day.

I love those memories. And I love Thanksgiving! Everything about it is spectacular: fall weather, fantastic parades, amazing food, football and more amazing food! The many traditions of family, church and youth group, coupled with the extra focus on gratitude complete the holiday. Thanksgiving is the real deal.

Literally.

I Thessalonians 5 says “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

It’s super easy to be thankful when things are going our way. Anyone can do that. But circumstances don’t always go our way. Can we still find something to be thankful for in the midst of that? Can we maintain an attitude of gratitude? What Paul wrote in Thessalonians doesn’t limit our thanksgiving to the stuff we posses, nor did he say to give thanks only when we feel like it or only when life is going our way. We are instructed to give thanks IN EVERYTHING.

That’s why I love the “Thankfulness Game.” It tangibly taught me the effect of gratitude. Sarah and I would play that game and before you know it, we were laughing and giddy; our spirits were soaring; and any annoyances we’d been harboring were out the window. And that was for stuff we didn’t even care about! When I took the “Thankfulness Game” concept and applied it to my life, using my own issues and things that actually mattered to me, the same effect happened! I saw a change in my attitude every time I focused on being thankful. That’s what gratitude does; it changes us! Gratitude generates joy, cultivates contentment, dissolves worry and anxiety, readjusts perspective, fuels optimism and inspires hope.

The beauty is we don’t need everything in our lives lined up perfectly in order to be grateful. We can give thanks in the midst of whatever we are facing, knowing that the giving of thanks not only changes us, but it can also change circumstances.

This is exactly what happened in Matthew 15. Jesus and His disciples had a minor problem going on as they were surrounded by a hungry crowd of people with an insufficient amount of food. There was no way Jesus could feed the entire crowd with the few loaves of bread and fish He held in His hands. Yet Jesus gave thanks for what He did have. Jesus gave God thanks for what He had, knowing that what He had was not enough. God responded to that thankfulness. He multiplied the bread and fish. God the Father took an insufficient amount of food and made it more than enough. God brought multiplication simply because Jesus gave thanks for what He had, even though what Jesus had was not enough.

“In EVERYTHING give thanks.

The giving of thanks can change circumstances, and the giving of thanks can change us. It brings life and increase! There’s no limit to what a thankful heart can create!

And that my friend, is why I love Thanksgiving and my silly high school “Thankfulness Game.” They re-center my attention to where it needs to be. Giving thanks, even over silly things that can be said in the “Thankfulness Game,” stir up my spirit, adjust my attitude and cause my heart to explode with joy.

I don’t dress up as a Pilgrim or Indian anymore, but I do put on my running shoes and hit the streets for a solid run every Thanksgiving morning. I’ve outgrown the elementary Thanksgiving dinner in the school cafeteria, but my youth group gets together for one, coupled with a football game. Leaving school early is no longer an option but leaving work early is and that’s exactly what my sisters and I now do in order to join our dad for a Thanksgiving-eve movie. Tradition lives on! But as meaningful as my Thanksgiving traditions are, each and every one dims in comparison to the wonder thankfulness does for my soul. And that wonder is not constrained to a day, circumstance or outcome. It’s simply the result of giving thanks in all things.