I received an email from the local library today with a subject line of “Tis the Season of Gratitude.” The body of the email reads as follows:
The spotlight is on gratitude this season. Gratitude is defined as a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation. Experts tell us that practicing gratitude can improve mental health, strengthen relationships and reduce stress. During this season, [the library] is offering a program focused on gratitude activities. A selection of activities are [sic] provided for all ages and you can do them at your own pace – as few or as many as you wish. Enjoy a renewed sense of thankfulness for those you consider family, for your community and for yourself.
Nothing wrong with that, is there? It IS the season of gratitude. Thanksgiving is around the corner and we’ll spend the day eating and giving thanks. A great way to spend the day and, according to the ‘experts’, a practice that improves mental health and strengthens relationships.
I do have one question that nags me every November, however. Who are we grateful TO? We’re all thankful and we can all list the things we’re grateful FOR (family, job, health, freedom, safety, etc.). But when we say thanks, don’t we typically say thanks TO someone?
If you gave me a gift and I said, “This is really nice; it’s just what I wanted. I’m really thankful for it,” wouldn’t that seem a little odd? Or if you invited me over for dinner and at the end of the evening I said, “That food was so good! I’m so grateful I ate it!”, wouldn’t you think I’m a little weird AND rude?
But isn’t that what we as a culture do every Thanksgiving? We give thanks! And we express our thankfulness! We don’t thank anyone specifically, we just THANK. And when you really think about it, it’s completely nuts. If you don’t say thank you, but yet you’re thankful, then your thankfulness is pointless. How can you be thankful if you don’t thank the giver of what you’re thankful for? It’s why the illustration above sounds so weird. If you give me a gift and I don’t thank you but I instead just express that I’m grateful, then my grateful expression has no meaning. Even more, it’s actually selfish because I don’t give credit to you, the gift-giver, I just make myself feel better.
And therein lies the rub. The Giver is no longer part of the equation at this time of year. It’s thanksgiving for thanksgiving-sake, which means it’s all about the person giving thanks, not the One who should receive it. It’s the world’s version of thankfulness. We don’t thank a Person who gives good things to us. We congratulate ourselves for being thankful (or in some cases just give thanks for ourselves – note the last line of the library email – you need to have a renewed sense of thankfulness for YOU!).
It’s why this season – like every season – should be different for the believer. We know we’re to be thankful, but we also know WHO we’re to be thankful to. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jas 1:17). Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever (I Chron 16:34). I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High (Ps 7:17).
We can enjoy this season; we can enjoy the food; we can enjoy family (if we get to see them). But we need to remember we’re giving thanks to a PERSON, not just giving thanks.