One of my favorite scenes in any movie is the closing of Saving Private Ryan. If you haven't seen it, don't worry, I don't think this spoils it. The main character is a veteran visiting the grave of a fallen soldier who worked to save his life many years ago. He stares at the grave, and says as if in prayer, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.”
Often when I think of the gifts those who have fought in war have given me, I think of this scene. Through their sacrifice they have given us a gift of freedom and prosperity. And it is a gift we should not squander. So how can we give thanks?
The simplest way is to offer verbal thanks. When we see a soldier coming home in the airport, or a veteran on Veterans Day, we can tell him or her, “Thank you for your service.” Sometimes it can feel awkward or strange to reach out to people in this way, especially if we do not know them; but it is a small gesture, and takes so little of our time.
If we know a veteran personally, we can try to express more fully how much we appreciate what they have given us, even if we can never truly know their sacrifice.
We can also say thanks when only the Lord can hear us. It may seem strange to imagine that we can thank those who cannot hear us, but offering words of gratitude, even in prayer, can help change our hearts. We can remember their service and sacrifice.
We can express the greatest gratitude in our hearts and in our lives. Soldiers have given us a gift, and the proper care and use of that gift shows our fullest thanks. We show gratitude when we use our freedom and prosperity to serve others. We are ungrateful when we abuse our freedom and squander our prosperity.
Consider the Lord's words: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Just as the Lord has given us spiritual freedom, we can be grateful for the natural freedom veterans and their fallen friends have given us.
Laying down one's life sometimes means dying, but it can also be giving time and energy in service to others. Whether it be for a few months, a few years, a career, or a lifetime, sacrificing time is one way people lay down their lives. It is putting others' needs above our own.
Perhaps this is the best form of gratitude. We can receive these gifts of service, and serve others in return. We can lay down our lives, even if only figuratively, as a way of thanking those who have laid down their lives in full.