Thank God is perhaps the most basic form of prayer in Western civilization. Even if we didn't grow up in a home that immersed itself in a rich tradition of spirituality (which I certainly didn’t) most people would be familiar with the idea of thanking God. In my work with families over the years I've always been amused by the "forced" thankfulness of some young people. If you're a parent or where once a child you probably know what I'm talking about. Here is how it works. A parent comes to pick up their kid from some activity: school, sports, church -- whatever. As they leave the parent inevitably says, "Did you say thank you?" to which the child replies with a monotone "thank you," as he/she goes to the car. In families where manners are valued the idea of please and thank you are drilled into children from infancy. I'm not complaining about this because it was drilled into me and I'm glad it was.Yet I wonder how much of this robotic responsiveness to thankfulness continues to influence our understanding of gratitude as adults. Consider the fact that in general we tend to approach thankfulness as an obligation. We write thank you notes because we're supposed to and we say thank you to gifts, lunches, and compliments that are less than appealing because we want to be polite. When a crisis strikes a neighbor or a different part of the country we are often reminded of our blessings. We pause to consider that our life isn't so bad after all and we are very grateful, very thankful, that whatever tragedy has struck, hasn't struck in our own backyard.
Even this kind of thankfulness is incomplete. It is true thankfulness, but it's a thankfulness that says "I'm glad those other people got hurt, and not me." Closer to the Biblical notion of thankfulness is the mere acknowledgment of your heartbeat; a simple thanks for the air you breathe or an innate sense of gratitude when watching children playing. It's a thankfulness that has been placed deep in our hearts by the Spirit of God. It's a posture that we as followers of Jesus are to approach life with. Life may have its up and downs, but we won't change our posture – we won’t stop being thankful.
That’s one reason that Christians have historically celebrated the Eucharist weekly, because Eucharist in the Greek language means “thanksgiving.” The Eucharist reminds us to be thankful and strengthens us to be thankful despite the tough stuff of life. Christians are fundamentally called to be a thanksgiving people – we are in the business of saying thank you. Are you a thanksgiving person?