A woman wrote Reader’s Digest and said, “I knew my sister was having several members of her husband’s family for Thanksgiving dinner, so I stopped by her house on Thanksgiving morning to see how things were going. The house was in shambles. Her four young children were squabbling the way siblings will do. I went into the kitchen. My sister’s hair was hanging down in her face. She had flour on her face and turkey dressing on her hands. Before I could ask how she was, she said through clenched teeth, ‘Those blasted Pilgrims!’” (I hope none of you had a similar experience on Thursday.)
Long before the pilgrims or the American holiday called Thanksgiving, the apostle Paul was talking about and writing about the importance of thankfulness. In Colossians 3:15-17, Paul mentions thankfulness, or gratitude, three times in as many verses. I really can’t think of any quality which is more basic, or foundational, to a life of faith. What is the appropriate response to the many, many blessings, tangible and intangible, which God pours out on us day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment? The appropriate response is a profound sense of gratitude — which is what Paul says in this text. He says that whatever we do, in word or deed, we should do it with thanksgiving. Everything we do, Paul says, should pass through the filter of gratitude; and that gratitude should be evident in both our words and our actions.
As for our words, maybe the most neglected aspect of our discipleship is saying “thank you” to God. God blesses so much and so persistently that we begin to take it for granted. I am not often captivated by proverbs or aphorisms, but my wife saw on somebody’s Facebook page this saying: “What if all we had tomorrow was what we thanked God for today?” What if when we awakened tomorrow, everything we took for granted today was gone?
As for our actions, there are many actions which evidence gratitude, but three seem most noticeable: kindness, generosity and service. You’ve never known a single person with a heart full of gratitude who was mean, stingy, or neglected to serve others. In the captivating book The Song of the Bird, Father Tony DeMello tells this story:
Jesus began to teach them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of God is like two brothers who were called to service by God. The first brother wrenched himself away from family and the girl he loved and hoped to marry; and went to a distant land where he served the poorest of the poor. A persecution arose in that country, and he was arrested and killed. The Lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have given me a thousand talents of service, and I will give you a billion billion talents of reward. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
The second brother responded to his call quite differently. He more or less ignored it. He married the girl he loved and had a happy family life. He began a business and became very wealthy. Occasionally, he would give alms to the poor. When he died, the Lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have given me ten talents of service, and I will give you a billion billion talents of reward. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
When the first brother heard what the Lord said to the second brother, the first brother said, “If I could live my life all over again, knowing what I do now, I would live it just as I did before.”
That’s a story about someone whose life was completely shaped by gratitude to God.