Gratitude, the parent of all virtues
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
– Meister Eckhart
Most societies and people through the centuries have recognized the importance of gratitude for living well, and for living well together.
Cicero called it the “parent of all virtues.”
Ask any parent. They know just how important it is. One of the earliest values that we instill in our children is gratitude as we gently, patiently, and consistently teach them to say, “thank you”.
We start early because learning to say “thank you” is important for our children’s socialization; it forms character and cultivates a generous spirit; it teaches appreciation, humility, and good stewardship.
It is not good for children to grow up with a sense of entitlement. It is not good for them to take things for granted. Neither is it good for those around them or for the environment.
Gratitude, important as it is, is not something that we are born with. It has to be taught, cultivated over a long time. And then it becomes a discipline.
You don’t have to be particularly religious to appreciate the value of gratitude. But it is also true that thankfulness is an important and beautiful part of the Christian faith.
The Christian life is a life of thanksgiving.
Our Christian understanding of gratitude rests on our understanding of God’s goodness. We acknowledge that we are not self-made or self-sufficient. We are loved, blessed, and cared for by our Father who generously provides for us. We recognize God’s hand in our lives and hold onto God’s love for all people, for the entire cosmos.
So we are thankful for pumpkins, squash, beets, carrots and turkeys; for children, spouses, parents, and cousins; for school, work and pay cheques; for salmon streams, mountains, swamps, and winter rains; for people who teach us, help us, serve us, and lead us; and for the conveniences of modern life.
But we receive all of these as gifts. We don’t take any of it for granted. And we continually offer ourselves to God in gratitude.
But there is more. We are thankful for God’s greatest gift of love – Jesus Christ, who in humility became the servant of many.
I tried to make a list of Bible texts on thanksgiving, but gave up because the references were too numerous. Prayers, songs, stories, and exhortations abound.
• Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.)
• Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:16-17.)
• Devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. (Colossians 4:2.)
• Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for what he has done. (Philippians 4:6.)
For Christians, there is a deep connection between thankfulness and prayer. When we pray, we most often say, “Thank you, Lord.” Christ is our example. He “took break, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples” so that they in turn can distribute it. Eucharist – thanksgiving - is our word for it. Eucharist is our feast where we celebrate not only the gifts of God, but God’s greatest gift – Jesus Christ - who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
Gerard Booy is pastor at Haney Presbyterian Church.