The first "official" Thanksgiving was celebrated 222 years ago. President George Washington's first presidential proclamation designated the 26th day of November to be set aside for giving thanks.
"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God and to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor," he wrote.
Washington did not ask the nation's citizens to demand more from God or to question why the Revolutionary War had lasted eight years, nor to reflect on the damage that occurred during the war. Instead, he asked the nation to be grateful and to ask for God's protection and favor.
Today, we too should pause and give thanks, even though these past few years have been particularly hard for many people. Many have lost jobs, some have lost their homes, others have lost the lives they used to have and are now on a new, harder path.
It is easy to be disillusioned, discouraged. Perhaps a step back, a pause, for a bit more perspective might help. If these losses are viewed as specific and temporary, then in two decades, they might be seen as large bumps and bobbles in the road rather than key events determining the trajectory and the final destination of lives.
Alternatively, people might interpret their current woes as impossible to overcome and decide that they have come to a dead end. This belief will stifle people's ability to dream and will therefore limit their future.
Hard times cannot be the times to falter and lose our dreams. When times are hardest, we need to dream the biggest.
We are a nation founded on a belief in God. As the Declaration of Independence states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Our understanding of our place in the world begins with our "Creator." This faith in God provides us with optimism -- belief in a brighter future and an understanding of our importance in the context of the wider, meaningful pattern of life. This faith is key to understanding American exceptionalism and American optimism.
Our faith in a Creator supports our nation's optimism. That even in bad times, we can see a brighter future. That today's challenges and events do not dictate the future, but that with God's help, the future can be brighter.
In a more tumultuous time, after the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving. His proclamation in 1863 acknowledged "the gracious gifts of the Most High God." Lincoln invited his fellow citizens to set apart and observe "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
Lincoln did not ask Americans to be distraught over the more than 600,000 lives lost during the Civil War, nor distressed over the damage to buildings and commerce. Instead, in a time of war, he asked the American people to acknowledge the gracious gifts of God.
During our time of trials, should we not do the same? Being thankful, even for small things, allows us to be receptive and open. We are acknowledging that there are good things in life. When we are upset and demanding, we focus on the bad and shut out the possibilities of good, gifts and hope.
We should remember our duty as noted by Washington "to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God and to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor."
By giving thanks for what we have, we will begin to be able to dream of what might be. This optimism will then give way to action and results.
This year, be thankful for dreams that provide us with the energy and the enthusiasm to move forward.