True gratitude is a grace, or gift, from God. It proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. In such a case we do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, or because God commands it, but because it naturally flows from a profound experience of gratitude. The “command” of Scripture to give thanks is not a moralism, but a truth and a description of what flows from a transformed heart.
Thus, an anointing to seek from God is the powerful transformation of our intellect and our heart so that we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that is everything we have. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything—literally everything—is a gift from God.
Permit me a few thoughts on the basis for a deepening awareness of gratitude. Ultimately, gratitude is a grace, but having a deeper awareness of its intellectual basis can help to open us more fully to this gift.
- We are contingent beings who depend on God for our very existence. He holds together every fiber of our being: every cell and every part of every cell, every molecule and every part of every molecule, every atom and every part of every atom. God facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, the functioning of every organ, and the movement of our body. God sustains every intricate detail of the world in which we live: the perfectly designed orbit of our planet so that we neither boil nor freeze; the magnetic shield that protects Earth from harmful aspects of solar radiation; and every intricate process of our planet, solar system, galaxy, and universe. All of this, including us, is sustained by God and provided for by Him. The depth, height, length, and width of what God does is simply astonishing. And He does it all free of charge. As we ponder such goodness and providence we are helped to be more grateful. All is gift.
- Every good thing you or I do is a gift from God. St. Paul says, What have you that you have not received? And if you have received, why do you glory as though you had achieved? (1 Cor 4:7). Elsewhere he writes, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:8-10). Hence even our good works are not our gift to God; they are His gift to us. On Judgment Day we cannot say to God, “Look what I’ve done, you owe me Heaven.” All we can say is “Thank you! All is gift!”
- Gifts sometimes come in strange packages. There are some gifts of God that don’t seem like gifts at all. There are sudden losses, tragedies, and natural disasters. In such moments it is easy to feel forsaken by God, and gratitude is probably the last thing on our mind. But here, too, Scripture bids us to look more closely: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good. He is paving a path unto glory, perhaps through the cross, but unto glory. Jesus has said to us, But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines and make a way out of no way. All is gift!
- Yes, all is gift. Absolutely everything is a gift. If we are in Christ, then even our failures are a gift, for we can learn from them and they can teach us humility. For what shall we give thanks? For everything! All is gift!
- There is an old saying, Justice is when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. Grace is when you get what you don’t deserve. Like you, I get asked a dozen times a day, “How are you?” I have trained myself to answer, “More blessed than I deserve.” Yes, all is gift.
- Finally, the word “thanks” in English is unfortunately abstract. In Latin and the romance languages, the word for “thanks” is far more closely tied to the notions of grace and gifts. In Latin one says, “Thank you” by saying, “Gratias ago tibi,” or simply, “Gratias.” Although gratias is translated as “thanks,” it is really the same word that is translated as “grace” or “gift” (gratia). Hence when one receives a gift one exclaims, “Grace!” or “Gift!” It is the similar with the Spanish Gracias and Italian Grazie. Thank you in French is Merci, which comes from the Latin merces, meaning something that has been paid for or given freely. All these languages display the giftedness underlying everything for which we are grateful. The English word “thanks” does not quite make the connection. About the closest we get are the related words gratitude and grateful. All of these words (gratias, gracias, grazie, merci, and gratitude) teach us that everything is a gift!
Ultimately, gratitude is a gift to be received from God. We ought to ask for it humbly. We can dispose ourselves to it by reflecting on things such as those discussed above, but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite, and transformed heart. Saying “thank you” is not a moralism. True gratitude is a grace, a gift that comes from a heart deeply moved, astonished, and aware of the fact that all is gift.