With Thanksgiving approaching, the topic of gratitude has taken its annual spotlight. We extol the importance of reflecting on all that makes life good, and of appreciating those we love.
But what it that makes gratitude so special? Why do we need this to be not just an annual observance, but an everyday posture? Not just toward God, but toward each other, in the heat of workaday life as well as the peace of the meal table? What power transforms a warm fuzzy feeling into a life-shaping force?
Gratitude Heals and Builds Human Relationships
If you’ve ever known someone who reacts to disagreement by excommunicating the other person from the project, or who treats everyone around them like servants, or who habitually accepts others’ contributions without acknowledgement, then you know how quickly and painfully a relationship can crack under a lack of gratitude. Devaluing or consistently overlooking others’ contributions is probably one of the surest ways to kill a relationship or organization.
On the other hand, if you know someone who habitually lets others know they are valued and celebrates their gifts, you also know the nourishing power of a “thank you”. A kind word or token, a simple acknowledgement of others’ roles and giftedness – this gives life to relationships and organizations. It keeps people going out to serve, and coming back to be replenished.
Gratitude is important for building, restoring, and maintaining healthy relationships. We will not always see eye to eye with other people on issues. But when we let people know they are appreciated for what they contribute, we create common ground. We create a safe place for them to bring their ideas to the table.
Gratitude doesn’t always solve problems or make the path forward clear. But it gives us a clearer perspective of the now, and helps us gather at a common starting point. And it reminds us that we humans are in this life together, that we are called to be teammates, not competitors.
Gratitude in our human relationships lets us see others more clearly – as beings made in the image of God, worth the value of Christ’s sacrifice, uniquely designed and dearly loved.
Gratitude Gives Us a Better Perspective in Our Relationship With God
In showing gratitude, we essentially acknowledge two things:
- We lacked something.
- Someone else gave us what we lacked.
Sometimes, though, we accept one of these and add a “but….” “I lack bread, but I can go to the store and get some more.” “I lack $1 million, but I can earn and save or buy a lottery ticket to get money.” That is not true gratitude.
True gratitude is essentially a humble, even joyful acceptance of grace. Grace is often defined as unmerited favor, or getting something we did not earn.
Grace is a major aspect of who God is. We see this in the Bible as early as Genesis, when God chose Abraham to receive a blessing even though at that time Abraham had nothing particularly special about him. We see it in the lives of Abraham’s descendants, whom God freed from slavery and cared for patiently over the course of centuries, through oppression and prosperity, corruption and faithfulness, grief and hope. And we see it in the story of God becoming human in the form of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead on the third day, to free the world from the power of sin and death from which we could not save ourselves.
Gratitude sees God as the provider, savior, friend, leader, and wonder-worker that He is. It joyfully receives His gifts, while praising Him as the source of all good things.
Gratitude, in both human and God-human relationships, sees not just a good thing, but the hand holding it out.
Gratitude takes the gift – and holds onto the hand.
How can you intentionally show others you appreciate them, both this week and year-round?