Cultivate gratefulness

Daily Reading for October 10 • The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Why is it so difficult to acknowledge a gift as gift? Here is the reason. When I admit that something is a gift, I admit my dependence on the giver. This may not sound that difficult, but there is something within us that bristles at the idea of dependence. We want to get along by ourselves. Yet a gift is something we simply cannot give to ourselves—not as a gift, at any rate. I can buy the same thing or even something better. But it will not be a gift if I procure it for myself. . . .

When I acknowledge a gift received, I acknowledge a bond that binds me to the giver. But we tend to fear the obligations this bond entails. When I learned English thirty years ago, it was current usage in America to express one’s thanks by saying “very much obliged.” Hardly anyone uses that expression today. Why not? We simply do not want to be obliged. We want to be self-sufficient. Our language gives us away. . . .

The bonds of interdependence are ties that set us free. One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness has power to dissolve the ties of our alienation, and we are home free—home where all depend on all. The interdependence of gratefulness is truly mutual. The receiver of the gift depends on the giver. Obviously so. But the circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes the receiver: a receiver of thanks. When we give thanks, we give something greater than the gift we received, whatever it was. The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves. One who says “Thank you” to another really says, “We belong together.” Giver and thanksgiver belong together. The bond that unites them frees them from alienation. Does our society suffer from so much alienation because we fail to cultivate gratefulness?

From Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness by Brother David Steindl-Rast (Mahway, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1984).

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