GRATITUDE – A FORGOTTEN VIRTUE
Paul H. Jeyasingh
Grateful people are an endangered species today. A Roman philosopher has said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Compassion and gratitude are considered indispensable elements of Christian character. Without any doubt, these two moral yardsticks can still be used to measure the strength of Christian character. In fact, it is these two rare virtues that make a believer a complete Christian. Martin Luther referred to gratitude as the basic Christian attitude and called unthankfulness a theft. Thanksgiving, as an expression of gratitude, is an essential part of worship and the life of a worshipper. Remember, the name Eucharist (Holy Communion) derives from the Greek word eucharistia which means ‘thanksgiving’.
Gratitude And Relationships
William Jordan in The Power of Truth says, “Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge which is only returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good.” He has valid reasons to say so. Ingratitude is often at the root of several ills that plague relationships between friends, neighbours, believers, co-workers, parents and children, husbands and wives, teachers and students, employers and employees, and notably between God and man. Nothing can buoy up relationships like gratitude. A warm word of thanks, appreciation or praise can instantly defrost a ‘frosty’ relationship. Gratitude should be shown by action, rather than by mere words, that demonstrates a humble attitude. All of us accept God as the Creator and Saviour; but do we express our gratitude to God every day for the beautiful things we see, touch, taste, hear and feel – the sounds, the colours, the fragrances, the flowers, the silent miracles performed every moment by the various constituents in perfect harmony with one another, not only within our body, but also within the plants, the trees and the entire biological world around us? Doesn’t our indifference towards these creations of God show that we take our Creator and His gifts for granted? Philip Yancey, one of the best-selling evangelical Christian authors, says, “What I see in the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms, which is a book of gratitude for the created world, is recognition that all good things on earth are God's, every good gift is from above. They are good if we recognise where they came from and if we treat them the way the Designer intended them to be treated.” This includes our body and mind.
The Ten Lepers
The episode of the ten lepers (Lk.17:11-19) is all about gratitude. In life, there are very few attitudes that are emotionally hurting as ingratitude. In this passage, Luke gives an account of the cure of the ten lepers, of whom only one came back to thank Jesus. And he was a much despised Samaritan! Jesus was not shocked, but saddened. His questions, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” seem to suggest that Jesus was indeed disappointed and deeply hurt by their indifferent attitude.
Melody Beattie, a daily meditations columnist, points out, “In Hebrew, the word for gratitude is hoda’ah, the same as the word for confession. To offer thanks to the persons who helped is to confess dependence – to acknowledge that our life is better because of their efforts. Grateful people openly acknowledge others’ contributions to their lives and regard their acts of kindness with profound indebtedness.”
It is significant that the Samaritan was the only one who had the sensitivity to feel the power of Christ now operating in his life. The fact that the Samaritan fell prostrate before the feet of Jesus Christ and worshipped Him is an indication that he experienced both physical and spiritual healing. Gratitude and transformation seem to go together. A truly transformed person is grateful to God every day for the mercies he has received – small and big. The ability to live every day with a heart overflowing with gratitude is an important part of a believer’s spiritual journey. The Samaritan coming back to offer his thanks to Jesus was an act of worship and confession of his faith. John Hamby points out, “Jesus said, ‘Your faith has made you well,’ or, literally, ‘your faith has saved you.’ The words used here are the same the Lord used when He said to the woman who had anointed His feet, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk.7:50).
It is faith that triggers miracles in one’s life. But the supreme and the most important miracle of all is the personal transformation we experience in Jesus Christ. It was this inner healing that motivated the Samaritan to come back and thank Jesus for the amazing miracle of healing.
Gratitude Demands Humility
We are aware that falling at someone’s feet is an expression of humility and submission. Gratitude demands humility. One of the qualities invariably seen in a truly grateful person is humility. “Gratitude is inextricably tied up with the virtue of humility. Gratitude shows that we’re paying attention to the acts of service people perform for us and that we truly understand how those acts make our life better, easier, and happier. He understands the sacrifices others make on his behalf. And he deeply appreciates them. Whereas the ungrateful man is callous; he’s come to think that all the good things that happen to him and all the services rendered him are an automatic response to his impeachable awesomeness. He deserves all that stuff and more. Thus, he never takes notice of the good things that happen to him” (Brett and Kate Mckay).
Those lepers were not healed instantaneously; they were healed on their way to meet the priests. It was, no doubt, a reward for their faith and obedience. But the nine who experienced the same miraculous healing simply took Jesus for granted and went home. It is gratitude that completes the healing process and draws us closer to the healer. Seeking God only when we have some problem or difficulty and conveniently forgetting Him when we don’t need His help is nothing but treachery.
Our lack of gratitude is largely because of our tendency to take things for granted, presuming that we deserve the favours we receive. There are many adult children who think their parents are responsible for them and ‘owe’ them their time, wealth and everything (their birth right or entitlements), and not the other way around. No wonder, they grow to be selfish, ungrateful and insensitive to the needs of their old parents, who sacrificed everything for their wellbeing when they were young. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “In ordinary life, we hardly realise that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
Gratitude A Way Of Life
Believers should always show their gratitude to all those who have helped them in their times of crisis or need. Michelle Obama, wife of US President Barak Obama, once said, “We learned about gratitude and humility… that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean... and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect.” Make gratitude your way of life. Life will be full, abundant and satisfying, only when we tone up our memory and learn to be grateful even for small things.
Finally, there is a negative relationship between materialism and gratitude. While it is the culture of selfishness and greed that ruins people’s sensitivity and morality, heartfelt gratitude generates a feeling of contentment, inculcating in us a spirit of sharing. An ungrateful person with ‘scarcity mentality’ is insensitive, negative and miserly. Be grateful when you find yourself in a position to help others.