11/28/2013 12:45 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2014

Is Thanksgiving Just For the 'Haves?'


A nagging question ritually pursues me every Thanksgiving that goes something like this: Is Thanksgiving a holiday for 'the haves?'

I'm not specifically speaking about the problematic mythology of pilgrims and native Americans around which the national observance was built, or even the fact that our country is so economically unjustly divided that a big box department store had a food drive for its own employees. Those are worthy topics on their own.

What I am wrestling with, however, is the the proposition of giving thanks for anything that we 'have.'

Not that I don't think that there is merit in that exercise.

Yesterday I was spending an hour with a friend of mine, for example, and I suggested that he name 30 things he was thankful for. It was great to hear the list, even more so because he is a man who has been through some tough times. Along with his wife, kids and his mom (who he wanted to count for three), came teachers from the fifth grade who he felt really cared for him, along with the basics of food, shelter and clothes on his back.

His list was worthy of the exercise, and I felt we both saw the world as more full and positive because of it. However -- and here we get to the heart of my question -- what happens to my friend's Thanksgiving if or when those things for which he is thankful are no longer present for him.

What if we give thanks for all the 'right' things we have such as family, friends, job, home and health, and then, in a blink of an eye, find that we no longer 'have' those things.

We can lose our job, our loved ones can die, our friends can turn on us, and we can get terribly sick. When that happens -- and in many ways it is inevitable that it will -- what will we be thankful for?

This nagging question reminds me of the question posed to Job in the Bible who has everything taken from him -- his family, his livelihood and his health -- until he sits covered with disease in a pile of dust. And he is encouraged to "curse God and die."

This complete desolation seems to me to be the most true place from which to view the question of thanksgiving and what we can say when we 'have' nothing.

Job offers us one response to thanksgiving in recognizing that his relationship with God is not predicated on anything but the relationship itself. His praise and thanksgiving to God is not transactional or based on anything but the fact that he exists and is part of this amazing universe and awesome life.

This is not about religion, one can exchange the word 'universe' for God. The point is that we have a choice every day to either curse this life and die -- or give thanks for being a part of this incredible experience called life.

When stripped from all the things we 'have,' thanksgiving -- raw and bare -- becomes an existential 'yes' to life in all of its tragedy and wonder. May each of us hold this 'yes' close to us on this Thanksgiving Day and for all of our days in this awesome life.