Dec 16, 2011

The Language of Gratitude

The language we learn shapes us as human beings. In face, in part, language is what makes us human. Infants learn what “mamma” and “dada” mean and associate these names with certain people. Part of going to law school, as I understand from some of my lawyer buddies, is to learn a certain kind of language that no normal human beings can know without a legal education. The same may be said of medical school, and even, perhaps, schools of theology. We become part of a certain group to the extent that the group initiates us. I heard one of my friends once say, “I want to yell for my child during her soccer game, but I’m not sure what to yell.” Part of the initiation into a group is to learn a special language. As we learn to speak that language, the group initiates us. To teach words is to teach skills and attitudes.

As the pastor of a generous church, I want folks to know how much I appreciate what our bighearted congregation does for others. I try to be bighearted this way as well, because being ungrateful for what we have and what are as gifts from God is downright sinful. Perhaps, there is no person who ever disappoints us as much as an ingrate.

“What is an ingrate?” you might ask. An ingrate is a person who presumes upon the goodness of another. In fact, from the spiritual point of view, ingratitude expresses immaturity. Small children do not always appreciate what parents do for them. Have you ever noticed that children are not born grateful? That is why we tell them and try to teach them over and over, “Say thank you to the nice lady for the candy . . . or else?”

Like the spiritually immature, a small child’s concern is not what a parent did for him or her yesterday, but what the parent is doing for the child right now. The spiritually mature appreciate those who labored for them in the past. A spiritually mature person understands that a relationship with another—whether the relationship is with another person or even with God—is a relationship that takes into account past, present and future.

The story of Andrew Carnegie, a multimillionaire in the early part of last century, depicts a tragic sense of ingratitude. When Carnegie’s will was probated, he left $1 million to one of his relatives, who in return cursed Carnegie because he had left $365 million to public charities and had cut him off with just one measly million.

This reminds us of an old saying about those who complain too much: “You will find that, as a rule, those who complain about the way the ball bounces are usually the ones who dropped it.”

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