ALVEY: Giving thanks is different than gratitude

Published 9:04 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2017

By Jack Alvey | Alvey is the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

If you subscribe to a social media account like Facebook or Twitter, then you might have noticed how some are participating in a campaign called “Thirty Days of Thanksgiving” (#thirtydaysofthanksgiving) during the month of November.

The campaign encourages people to not only think of something they are thankful for but also encourages them to express what they are thankful for to others through social media. The practice of giving thanks in a tangible way is what ultimately gives way to a life of gratitude.

Obviously, there are other ways to express thanks. Some people use journals. Many families sit around the dinner table and talk about what they were most thankful for during the day. We give thanks in casual conversation. And some people still handwrite thank you notes.

At a Bible study a few weeks ago, someone asked, “What is the difference between thanks and gratitude?” It seems to me that giving thanks is an action. We say thank you when someone is kind to us. We say thank you because it is what we are expected to do.

However, gratitude is cultivated by a life of giving thanks. Gratitude moves beyond action into a state of being. Our hearts are filled with gratitude by constantly giving thanks for all our blessings and even all our disappointments or failures. For in the end, all of life is a gift.

A couple of years ago, during a golf lesson, I was taught a valuable lesson about the act of giving thanks. For every bad shot I hit, I complained about it. But for every good shot I hit, I said nothing. The pro giving me the lesson asked, “Why are you celebrating the bad shots instead of the good shots?”

We live in a world that loves to celebrate the bad shots while barely stopping to notice the good shots. I believe this is a symptom of a world and society that lacks a sense of gratitude. Even more, this is a symptom of a world that is entitled. Instead of giving thanks in all things, we complain in all things unless of course things go our way.

Like with my golf game, the world is going to hit a lot more bad shots than good shots. When I am on the golf course, I often ask, “How is complaining going to help my golf game?” Instead, I can learn a lot from the ball I just hit in the trees.

I can take the wayward drive as a hint that I need to change some things. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, consider again how this holiday can begin to cultivate a life lived not only in giving thanks but also a life lived in gratitude. As a Christian, a life lived in gratitude is rooted in returning in thanks to the God who gives us life, health, and salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The good news is that a life lived in Jesus opens our eyes to a world where nothing ends in failure, nothing ends in disappointment, nothing ends in death, a world where there is no end – only new joys, new possibilities, new life.

Thanks be to God.