Sometimes we are paid what we are due, that’s just. Thank God, often we do not get what we are due for our wrong choices, that is mercy. Many times in life we did nothing to earn what we get and we get goodness.
The proper response to unearned favor, grace, is thankfulness. If I am in my right mind, thankfulness is natural, a response in love to love.
I did not make the world, but it is good. I did not create the stars that I can see tonight in Wylie, Texas, but they are beautiful. My family, especially Mom and Dad, but including my brother, aunts, uncles, cousins did good for me and to me long before I could return any favors. They love me, because I am me.
I am thankful to God for His good creation. I am thankful to Mom and Dad for good parenting.
The undeserved privileges of life should result in gratitude, thanksgiving. This is not a feeling, though I feel sentimental tonight, that is not thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is giving back, not because I could ever pay Mom for her acts of service and love, but because love begets love. That cycle of love begins in an unmerited act of love, such as when Mom taught me to read without giving me tests or seeing if I was qualified (!). She taught me, because she loved me. The love that wishes to serve her, make her happy, and then does something, words and deeds, is thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is the return that love gives to the beloved because he wishes to do so. No human can demand thankfulness or gratitude, because the love that begets the first kind act does not care about returns. The son is loved because he is the son.
Mostly, I think, because I fall for that most American of myths that I am a self-made man. Officially, theologically, I know this is false, but the lie is all around: I am due what I get or I earned it. Americans like to believe we have pulled ourselves up by our boot straps.
Think about the image. My boot straps (I live in Texas) allow me to pull on my boots. I cannot lift myself up by them, because they are attached to me. Nobody pulls themselves up by their boot straps.
I was born American in the twenty-first century: a great privilege. My friends have forgiven much and helped me mightily. Our school has patrons who are due a mighty gift of thankfulness. If I think about this even for a moment, I want to return the favor. This is thankfulness.
Most of all, I have been blessed with people who have had mercy on me, loved me, helped me. God have mercy on me! Self-made? I did not birth myself, educate myself, feed myself, clothe myself. Love made me, sustained me, and carries me forward.
I am thankful and so I will stop thinking about thankfulness and begin to plan ways in the next few days I can show my gratitude: tangible, active, ways.