The darkness of that night was different. No moon graced the sky, the stars hid behind a veil of thick clouds, and dense stone walls defended those inside from any of the street torches’ warmth. The identities of anyone who made a sound were obscured by the darkness. Besides the moans of the ill inmates and the muffled voices of guards along the outer walls, it was silent. It seemed the darkness took any will the prisoners had left to speak. What would they say anyway?

Then, shuffling footsteps and the sound of chains dragging behind them broke the silence. In a flash, the guards hurled two more men into the cell closest to the door. As soon as the cell door smashed shut, the guards left, inviting the eerie silence to grip the night again. But not for long.

Paul and Silas, followers of the Way, would not let their circumstances rule them. In the darkness of their cell they began to sing! “Praise God from whom all blessings flow …” The others sat up and leaned toward the voices, finding their hope was returning.

The duo did not stop after the first song but kept singing until they welcomed the morning with their thanksgiving, which gave the others something better than their shackles to identify with. The apostles’ identity as children of a good God gave them reason to be thankful, and their thankfulness gave others hope while in that Roman prison.

Although none of us are trapped in a first-century prison, we ought to realize where we are imprisoned. As a culture, the walls of discontent surround us and try to block out the light that comes in recognizing the goodness of God in all circumstances. In a culture full of hopeless discontent and greed, living in an identity as the thankful people of God ought to be at the forefront of our minds.

Neither we nor our children will naturally live in such an identity. It must be cultivated by habits, patterns, and traditions of the practice of thankfulness. It will feel awkward in the beginning, but it will build an identity of thankfulness in us that will light up even the darkest places. One way to start is what my family called “thankfulness kernels.”

For as long as I can remember, this was our Thanksgiving tradition. We all received one kernel of corn for each other member in the family, so six total for our family of seven. Throughout the meal, we were free to give a kernel to any member of the family and give a specific example of how we felt
thankful for them. The kernel was a way for us kids to practically see how our thankfulness was being “sown” into the family’s identity. One year my dad gave us all our kernels at the same time and said how he was thankful we all loved and served Jesus, and how it was the greatest answer to prayer he could ever receive. It would have been one thing for him to tell us that individually, but by saying it for the whole family to hear, he created a common identity of thankfulness for Christ’s work in us.

This year consider starting this tradition for your own family and any friends who might join in on your thanksgiving feast. Simply distribute popcorn kernels to each person in attendance—one for each family and friend, excluding themselves. Then, encourage them to look for opportunities to share the ways they are thankful for each other and how they see God working in unique ways.