It’s that time of year when thankfulness is in front-of-mind for the western world, right along gluttony, football, and frustrating family members. Today, chances are, most of our readers are reaching the end of their tolerance for turkey leftovers and in-laws. And, chances are, most of our readers said some words around a table yesterday in answer to the classic Thanksgiving question, “What are you thankful for?”
There’s a lot to be said about giving thanks. In a Thanksgiving post, we could dissect Paul’s direction in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV):
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
In these words, we see the import God places on gratitude, the expectation of ubiquity, and the emphasis of Christ in the presence of our thankfulness. We could delve into the etymology of the Greek eucharisteō (εὐχαριστέω), or follow the various translations into English we see of this foreign term. We could even just list all the things we’re thankful for here at theUMB.
Someday, perhaps, we’ll do all that. Today, though, I want to get a little more basic. Let’s talk about thanksgiving, as in the giving of thanks.
This past weekend at church, one of the men from my small group approached me quietly and said something like the following:
Phil, I just wanted to thank you. Since I opened up about my issues with you guys at the small group, I have not struggled with temptation to return to pornography in any form. God has relieved me, and so far, I’m winning. Thank you for being willing to listen without condemnation, and thank you for your support.
As he spoke, his voice wavered with emotion, and you could tell it cost him something to speak in such a way. Cost in humility – it’s never easy to express yourself in a vulnerable way, much less to another man. Cost in courage – verbally addressing something shameful, much less continuing to do so, keeps most men enslaved to pornography. Cost in time – he was in no rush to move on with his day, instead fully engaging with me in a moment of authenticity. He wasn’t being polite; he was thanking me in a way that cost him something. It was a gift to me.
A Gift of Gratitude
It struck me then: we’ve turned the giving of thanks into a courtesy. We rarely give thanks anymore. We say “thank you” as readily as we say “please”. I expect my children to keep their manners up because it’s just polite. But this isn’t giving thanks; it’s just saying thanks.
A gift is a transaction in which one party is increased and the other party is decreased. A gift will incur a cost by the giver, and the value from that cost will be granted to the recipient. Think about such a gift of gratitude. Is that what we do?
When I say “thank you” to a waiter for refilling my drink, it costs me nothing. He politely performed a task (topping off my water), and I politely performed a task (keeping up the niceties). This was an exchange of petty services, and we would be right in calling what I did appreciation. But we must fall short of labeling it “thanksgiving”.
Such a transaction is an exchange, not a gift. A gift might be in response to another gift, but if both are given freely, there is no exchange. Let’s look at an extreme example.
Two thousand years ago, God sent His Son to earth, and Jesus subsequently endured torture and death as a gift to me, ensuring my opportunity to be saved from the wrath of God for my sin. That was a gift, given freely, for me to do with what I will.
Today, I thank God for that gift. I humble myself, knowing that I can never be worthy of such a gift. In gratitude, I sacrifice my will and whim in preference for His ways. I love Him because He first loved me. Does my gratitude cost me something? Sure. Does it repay a debt, even in a small degree? No. Then it’s not an exchange. It’s truly the giving of thanks.
Look at my friend’s extension of gratitude. He owed me nothing at all. His victory over sin came from the Lord, not from some contribution of mine. I was a mere bit actor in God’s story in this man’s life. His gratitude was not in repayment as there was nothing to repay. It was strictly a gift.
Naturally, the use of such an extreme example serves as illustrative rather than instructive. No gift can compare with that of God to us in salvation, and no gift can fall so short as my thankfulness to Him. But there is merit in the example.
We see that true thanksgiving – that is, the giving of thanks – should cost us something. Like my buddy at church, our gifts of gratitude should be fully-engaged moments wherein we open up to someone who we really appreciate. Maybe we do it in person, as he did. Maybe we do it with a letter, handwritten with an inspirational quote or anecdote that expresses how we feel. Maybe we do it with a more tangible gift, something painstakingly researched and suited perfectly to the recipient. Maybe it’s even anonymous, a gesture of appreciation they’ll never really connect back to us. The point is that it should cost the giver, and mean something to the recipient.
I don’t mean to condemn courtesy. I’ll still instruct my children to say “thank you” at all the proper times. But going forward, I’ll strive to recognize that for what it is: the first baby steps toward true gifts of gratitude they should be capable of once they’re adults.
Originally posted 2015-11-27 08:00:05.