Let me be The Thanksgiving Grinch for a minute
It’s that time of year when the words “thankful” and “grateful” are tossed around, slapped on t-shirts and throw pillows and hashtagged. (#blessed)
Question: What are we thankful for? Who are we giving thanks to? Why?
Can I just skip the whole Pilgrim and Native American story? That is a PC minefield and that’s not the focus of this post.
I’m talking about the watered-down, non-religious, non-national holiday that a lot of people celebrate. I’m talking about that Thursday in November where we get the day off to cook and eat a bunch of food. We put up some turkey decorations #givethanks, watch some football and fall into a tryptophan coma.
In the weeks preceding Thanksgiving, everyone gets ramped up by giving. Everyone is raising money, collecting food or making a show of their volunteerism. I feel the pressure, the guilt, the jealousy. I really want to keep up, look generous and join the crowd on social media and share about what I’m thankful for but I just can’t. Sharing an inventory of possessions and rubbing it in about how I have it so much better than others just feels braggy and wrong. I mean, seriously, in the wake of school shootings and wildfire destruction I just can’t bring myself to gush about how relieved I am that I have it so good. Is there a way I can express my thankfulness without coming off sounding braggy and diminishing the pain and suffering of others?
So, the Thanksgiving holiday has come to this: I spend the few weeks before Thanksgiving refusing to be guilted into giving, avoiding the pressure of giving while I wait for the moment that my giving will be a genuine gesture which usually never happens. Then, on the actual day, I make a pronouncement on social media stating that I am thankful and grateful for everything I have. I might mention a few people that I am thankful for but once I get started I have to add more names (even if I’m not thankful for them) so no one gets their feelings hurt, but I inevitably forget someone and I have to apologize. Then I eat a big meal with family and friends. It’s nice and everything but I feel a bit like The Grinch by asking, “Maybe Thanksgiving, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Maybe I just don’t I really understand what it means to be thankful and grateful.
Excuse me, but I feel the need to dig into this idea a little bit. I don’t want to give this year as a knee-jerk reaction to pressure. I want to be intentional. I want to say that I’m thankful and grateful this year and know exactly what I mean. I want to celebrate, really celebrate Thanksgiving and not give it the bum’s rush.
So, bear with me as I “puzzle” this out as The Grinch would say. Feel free to move on unless you’re interested in doing a little self-examining with me.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never really taken the time to really think about the difference between thankfulness and gratefulness. I sort of just threw the words out interchangeably. And I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about how giving might be connected. Is giving a noble act from the goodness of one’s heart or an action in response to the goodness of someone else? I need to look into this.
What is the difference between thankfulness and gratefulness?
In my research, the major, if not the only difference I discovered is that thankfulness is an act and gratefulness is a way of being. Ok, that’s already something I hadn’t thought of. Thankfulness is a gesture in word or action that expresses appreciation for something someone has done for you. It happens in a moment, then it’s over. Like saying, “thank you” is a gesture of appreciation with your words.
Gratefulness is not an act but a sense of being, that feeling of appreciation that comes from deep within. That feeling of appreciation can linger for as little as a moment or as long as a lifetime. Let’s say that someone gives you a gift. You can feel grateful for their act of kindness, and then you can write a note that expresses your thankfulness. As time passes, you may remember that kindness and feel grateful again, but you may not show thanks again.
Does the Bible express a difference?
In a brief effort, I could not find the word “grateful” or “gratefulness” in a verse. However, some versions translate the word “thankful” as “grateful.” In just about every verse that mentions thankfulness to God, there’s an action attached to it. We’re told to “give thanks” to God with words and songs of praise, with sacrifices, offerings, with raising our hands, bowing down, playing music and dancing. So, I guess it’s assumed that if you are going to make a gesture of thanks, you are grateful in your heart. And it’s assumed that if you are grateful in your heart you will make a gesture of thanks.
Empty Gestures vs. An Attitude of Gratitude
I suppose I need to check to see if I’m actually grateful for something. Do I have an appreciation in my heart for my life, my family, my home, the fact that I can pay my bills? I have to say, “Yes.” So, since I have gratefulness in my heart, I need to make a gesture of thanks. But wait, what if my actions and words don’t match? Does that really matter? I think maybe it does. In thinking about this, I can’t help but remember a verse where God describes Israel, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV) God is pointing out their hypocrisy. He’s pointing out that there’s something insincere and downright yucky about someone’s heart being disconnected from their actions.
Let me puzzle this out
Based on this information, I should make sure that my heart and my actions are in sync. Then I suppose I should not just be all talk and no action. I shouldn’t just go around saying I’m thankful without making a gesture of some kind to the one from whom I gained some benefit. I’m reminded of those guys who Jesus healed from leprosy and never thanked Him. Then again, I shouldn’t just go around making gestures without really connecting my heart to it. That seems manipulative, like trying to get attention, earning points or trying to placate an authority. One without the other is disingenuous.
So, to whom do I make this gesture of thanks? I guess I really need to get down into where I believe my life, my family, my home, my provision comes from. If I think I am responsible for my thriving, then how do I thank myself? If it’s the company who gives me a paycheck, then how do I thank it? If God is responsible then how do I thank an invisible being?
I’ve got to dig deep. This is hard. Maybe I should just take the day off that the company gives me and eat some food. Maybe I’m thinking too hard about it.
And puzzle some more
Ok, here goes. My belief is that God makes a way for me to have what I have. I feel that He opens doors of opportunity for work. He has given me wisdom and is involved in my life. So, I am grateful for His provision and presence. That’s what’s in my heart. Then to be thankful is an action, so what gesture of thanks do I make? I can say, “Thank you, God, for Your provision.” But I want to do more.
Perhaps the best gesture of thanks from a grateful heart would be to share from what I have been given. I could give love, food, clothes, or contribute to health and housing. But God has everything. How can I give a gesture of material things to a God who is Spirit and needs nothing? I’m reminded of the verse, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)
Then The Grinch thought of something she hadn’t thought before…
At the beginning of this, I hoped that I would come up with some mind-blowing, new realization about thankfulness, gratefulness, and giving. I would clear up the fake, grandstanding activity of the holiday! However, what I’ve come to is that what I see happening this time of year is actually right on point. Grocery stores with their food collection bins, clothing collection boxes, food pantries and soup kitchens making sure those in need have a Thanksgiving dinner are making it easy for me to be able to express my gratitude to God in some tangible act of thanksgiving to those who need it in honor of the One who provides.
But what about being able to join in the social media crowd in expressing my thanks? I guess I need to check my motive. Why am I doing it? To get attention? To be admired? To get a pat on the back? Maybe these words from Jesus can help: “So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be praised by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. ~Matthew 6:2-4, BSB
And then the mic drops.
Thanks for hanging with me as I think through all of this. I believe I get it.
I think my heart grew 3 sizes today.