One of the most common things we hear parents of young children asking is “What do you say?” And children soon learn to respond by rote, usually with little enthusiasm or sincerity, “Thank you.” It is a social lubricant which gives us some veneer of civility as we live together in society. It is a necessary lesson.
But each of us has also experienced the deeply sincere expression of thanks from friends, family members or even strangers. These expressions that emanate from the heart and embody real gratitude. And we hope and trust that those first reluctant, prompted thanks you’s we squeeze from our children will over time mature into real and felt gratitude.
What is the best expression of thanks? Depending on which industry you believe it is best expressed in flowers, candy, jewellery or personal items such as clothing or even gift cards. We seem to want to embody thanks in some way. And that may just be the right track. Rather than mere words which can communicate either deep truth or just a socially expected expression – some tangible form can be given to our thanks.
A hand written note of thanks seems to have more value to most of us than just the casual “thanks a lot.” It indicates time taken and thought given to expressing gratitude. There is a sense in which the note incarnates the gratitude felt.
What the scriptures both Hebrew and Christian lead us towards is something even more personal – more incarnational. They point us towards living a life in response to gratitude. Our life then becomes the expression of thanks to God, and to others.
We were asked to bring socks and blankets to the downtown churches Thanksgiving Eve service. These items will be distributed through the Exit 0 ministry. We can choose to contribute either in response to the expectation that we donate something; or we can do itt in response to a sense of gratitude for the blessing we enjoy and wanting to share those blessings with God’s people.
What is the difference between those two? For the homeless who will receive these socks and blankets there will be no difference. The socks and blankets will be just as clean and warm – no matter whether we have offered them out of duty or out of gratitude. The prime recipient of the difference is us. When we live our life in gratitude for what we have it makes our life better and enriches the lives of those around us.
How can we improve our life without spending one penny more? Simply by learning to see the blessings around us and be grateful for what we have rather than concentrate on and be desirous of what we do not have. We live in the richest country in the world ut all our advertising is telling us we need more to be happy. Happiness is not having more it is appreciating what we do have. And the more we practice the art of gratitude the more joy we will have; the more we will be able to share with others, and the better or lives will both seem and will be.
Gratitude is not a natural response – it is learned. And like anything other learned skill it improves as we practice it. This is why Jesus encouraged thankfulness and generosity – not just because it is good for others but also it is because it benefits the person exercising them the most.
So for us as adults the key is not the prompt from childhood “what do you say” – but Jesus’ implied question “what do you DO?” .