Give thanks in all circumstances… —1 Thessalonians 5:17a
Can you remember the first time you were told to say “thank you,” even though you didn’t feel thankful? Maybe it was for the Christmas present your aunt and uncle gave you that wasn’t exactly what you had spent every waking moment daydreaming about. Nevertheless, you were told to be grateful. And there was some important lesson to learn there, right? It was (and is) good to recognize the effort that people put forth to care for us.
While dashed childhood hopes for the right Christmas present may seem trivial in adulthood, I do think there is something important to consider about the ways we experience gratitude today—especially under circumstances of injustice. What does it mean to be grateful when life is unjust?
Let’s not forget that many of our societal structures are built upon a quid pro quo model of gratitude. As a benefactor, I do this for you, and you as the beneficiary say thank you and remember that you owe me one. What if we could transition to a pro bono model of gratitude, where we recognize that we are not the owners of the goodness that we receive? We are simply stewarding the goodness that comes our way—the life we’ve been given, the love we experience, the joys we know, the air we breathe, the rain that renews the earth, and so much more.
As we come to terms with the goodness that is inherent in our complicated existence, we can more readily see ourselves as flowing through these cycles of receiving and giving. Gratitude becomes less about owing a benefactor who holds power over us, and more about recognizing the goodness we have received. And then sharing it with those in need.
Spirit, wherever we find ourselves today—whether with plenty or with little—we pray that you would help us recognize the abundance you have provided to us in creation. May we freely receive and freely give with open hands today. Amen.
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