Most children can't remember when they were first taught those all-important magic words — "please" and "thank you." These aren't just words but life lessons of sorts that demonstrate courtesy on the part of youngsters as well as proper parenting.
Indeed, the words are magic. It is hard to resist a child who says, "More ice cream, please." Then, when youngsters respond with thank you, a third serving is certainly within the realm of possibility.
The use of the words is cultivated as we grow older. A thank you takes on weight when it moves from an automatic verbal response and takes shape in a thank-you note. Or when it results in reciprocal action.
Not every expression of gratitude is alike. In fact, the expressions and motivations for thanksgiving are legion. Two of the contrasting forms are active and passive gratitude, and it may be that the latter has not much more than a grain of gratitude in it.
Passive gratitude can be a courtesy barely meant and quickly forgotten. On the other hand, active gratitude is much more than a dutiful "thank you." You might say that active gratitude validates a spoken thank you.
Active gratitude rarely forgets kindness extended, be it monumental or fairly minor. A rare sports example: The Major League pitcher whose team continues to pay him (out of contractual obligation, to be sure) as he misses a year recovering from Tommy John (arm) surgery but once healthy foregoes jumping to another team for more money when the opportunity presents itself. It is an increasingly uncommon attitude that says, "They stuck with me when I couldn't produce so I'm going to give the team what it paid for now that I am finally healthy, even if it means earning less."
Active gratitude is a life-enhancing and life-changing thank you.
Active gratitude reciprocates when possible, but it usually goes beyond that, radiating to unsuspecting others. It becomes a chain-reaction triggered initially by a physical gift, a kind deed, a compassionate thought or a perfectly timed word. Life-changing deeds — whether they seem minor or major — are multiplied through heartfelt gratitude.
One might say that active gratitude — or genuine gratitude — is the beginning of a conversation of words, actions and attitudes prompted by receiving a blessing. It is the gift-that-keeps-on-giving response. It has the power to empower others indefinitely.
Thankfully, the little seed of gratitude placed in us as children usually grows into active expressions of gratitude as we mature. However, it is obvious that too many gratitude-stunted adults still roam the planet.
With Thanksgiving Day just ahead, it is good to remember that active gratitude doesn't forget those in the community or even the world who do not share the same bounty as we do. Passive gratitude is evident when I sit down to a sumptuous meal, thank God for the provision, perhaps even acknowledge others who lack food and a safe water supply, say amen and then forget the conversation with God ever happened. By contrast, active gratitude will not let me forget those less fortunate.
Active gratitude is like active listening. It is a discipline cultivated over time, but it begins by valuing people. For people of faith, it is emulating the very example of Christ, who repeatedly noticed, acknowledged and embraced noblemen and nobodies alike. They included people who had nothing but heartache as well as those who were bankrupt in their power and wealth. On the other hand, passive gratitude is like passive listening. It looks over, around and through people, content not to acknowledge them or connect in any meaningful way.
Churches and their members increasingly are finding ways to express active gratitude in their communities and well beyond. Grateful for the provisions of life, they are not content to look beyond parents struggling to provide food and shelter for their children. For many, the seasons often marked by self-indulgence — ironically Thanksgiving and Christmas — are again becoming the seasons for caring and sharing that they were intended to be.
During this season, please find ways to express gratitude in genuine and active ways in Christ's name. And thank you for doing it. Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.