by Gayle D. Beebe, Ph.D.
I love this time of the year when we gather for a special time to relax and reflect with family and friends. When I was growing up, my father would ask each one of us of during the Thanksgiving meal to share three things from the previous year we were thankful for: something that had been done for us, something that had been given to us, and someone who had been especially kind to us. He did this so we would begin to recognize and remember people who had been gracious toward us.
This brief exercise in remembering helped us learn how to look at life, how to develop a spirit of appreciation and how to recognize the people who were investing in our lives so we would learn how to invest in the lives of others.
One of the great challenges facing each of us is getting so buried in our own work and our own world that we don’t look up and around and stop and say, “Who is out there helping me fulfill my dreams and my goals for my future? Who is helping me achieve the things that matter the most to me?”
Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays give us a time to be thankful and to reflect on the people God puts in our life so that we, in turn, can learn how to be a blessing to others. The relationships we make are some of the most important things we do in our lives, and I’ve been so encouraged to hear from many Westmont alumni about the friendships they built during college that endure to this day.
There are many passages of scripture that address the importance of gratitude, including Ephesians 5:20, “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” The next verse is: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Then begins a section of Ephesians that teaches us how to live in reciprocal relationships. So much of the book deals with how we become reconciled to Christ so that we, in turn, can live in reconciling relationships with one another. This attitude of thankfulness in Ephesians 5:20 follows a number of activities and events that Paul uses to remind the church at Ephesus how to look at life in order to develop this spirit of thanksgiving.
Reciprocal relationships exist for all of us as none of us exists apart from each another. As we live in community and learn to live in community, we have to develop an attitude of respect no matter what age we are and no matter what our station in life is. Through this attitude of thanksgiving we learn how to recognize the gifts and abilities of others and, as a result, we can celebrate and accept the gifts and abilities God has given us. This doesn’t happen automatically. Sometimes this ability only develops when other individuals in our life poke us and prod us and persuade us to look around and see the community surrounding us.
I’m grateful for my faith and for the people who formed it in me, including my parents, who played the most important role. My father told us, “All of us are always growing and all of us are always improving,” which was a great theme of his life. My mother taught us to read from the Bible and to love reading. We always started every morning with family devotions because she believed that a highly disciplined home would give us the structure we needed to be successful in life.
We lived right next door to the church we grew up in, and my parents actually helped to start it as lay people. My father was a public school superintendent, and my mother was a first-grade teacher. The church had a wonderful orientation to scripture, to the great traditions of Christian history and to the thoughts and experiences that honor God. But my parents involved us in this church for another reason. They knew that when we entered our teenage years, we wouldn’t always be willing to listen to them, and they wanted us in church to be around people of faith who honored God and who could become role models for us. That network of support and those reciprocal and reconciling relationships sustained me throughout my youth — and they continue to sustain me. That was the first network or community I experienced in the church, and it was an incredible experience. I still remember so many of the people with whom I grew up and think about the loving, nurturing environment in which we were able to live and learn the ways of God.
Of course, that is the kind of experience we seek to provide for our students at Westmont, and I’m thrilled that we surround them with such accomplished, committed and loving professors. Students also learn a great deal from each other as they develop communities within the residence halls and their various classes and activities. We provide many opportunities for them to understand and appreciate reciprocal and reconciling relationships, to encourage and support others in ways that they themselves have been encouraged and supported. And for this I am truly thankful.