I've always been thankful. When I receive a gift, I say "thank you" to the giver, or write a thank-you note before I use the item or spend the money. It's just good manners, as I was taught from infancy. I guess I thought that was enough: acknowledging the gift and telling the giver I liked it and they were very kind to give it. Not any more.
Gratitude is something deeper, I believe. The word comes from the Latin "gratus" or "gratia." We often use the word "grace" in faith settings, and it's usually defined as undeserved favor, or even as extreme as showing mercy to a known enemy. Gratitude is the condition of being thankful for a gift.
If the money or thing was earned, there's no grace about it--it's payment. But gratitude acknowledges that the giver owned something of value and relinquished it forever to the recipient with no expectation of repayment or reciprocation.
There's also a providential time element to consider. When I've been down to the wire on figuring how to get by in a financial situation (had to replace the tires on my car as they crumbled in the Arizona climate, website renewal came up, the air conditioning bill was $225, and my teaching income was next to nothing), I received gifts in the snail mail. Sometimes they come in the form of a freelance job (that I work for), sometimes as a gift card marked "With love from Jesus," sometimes as a "just because" gift, and sometimes a random stranger decides he likes the research articles on my history blog. But there's no accident that they came at exactly the right time. The givers may or may not recognize the whisper of God in their minds. But I do. That's another difference between feeling thankful and being grateful. I know the source of the generosity.
Something I've learned, again and again, but perhaps in a deeper way recently, is that gratitude is a lifeline out of despair. It doesn't make a lot of sense to be grateful for adverse circumstances, but I've found that being grateful that I'm beloved of God, and that I have the respect and love of friends, lifts me up from the pit where the Adversary flung me.
Rather than a rational explanation, the miraculous answer is that when I set my eyes on God, instead of my miserable circumstances, he has the opportunity to remind me from whence my blessings flow--and then sets them in motion. It's not that I deserve the blessing by my actions, but that he loves me and is liberal with his gifts.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, educator and philosopher, passed away in late 2015. His daughter Serena Dyer Pisoni wrote of a sensation of her father's presence in her car when she was feeling burdened by stress, and the lesson she took from it:
"I don't have to wait for ... the stress and the turmoil to go away in order to feel peace. In fact, it's just the opposite. I have to feel peace inside in order to get ... the turmoil to go away. I cannot control what's going on outside of me. But I can control how I react to it. I can choose peace at any time despite what is happening around me."As mentioned in the video "Just Be Held," if my eyes are on the storm, I'm not seeing the one who's saying "Peace, be still."
So being thankful, nay, being grateful right down to my core, is what I hope to be, and hold in my heart in increasing measure, in the new year ahead.