Love and Gratitude
One of the great gifts of this job is getting to hear your stories of gratitude or moments when you look at life differently because you seek to find an opportunity for gratitude, or you notice when someone is acting out of gratitude unspoken. Those of you who have heard me speak about the importance of gratitude know that I find a great deal of wisdom in a story found in the postlude of the book Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan. I read this book in seminary, and what stuck with me was this little story that ended the book. The postlude is written by Fr. Donovan’s sister. She shares the story of washing the dishes with her brother after he had retired and moved in with her family. He asked if she had ever heard his Thanksgiving sermon. She hadn’t, so, he shared that, every Thanksgiving, he preached the same thing: “When a person says, ‘Thanks,’ it is not really to make a return for something done. You can’t do that. It is an attempt to return love to love given. Thanks means ‘My love to your love.’” The next day he died while walking home. His sister received roses on Mother’s Day from him with the simple message, “Happy Mother’s Day, my love to your love!” I really love this story for so many reasons, but most of all because I agree with Fr. Donovan. We cannot return kindness; we cannot one-up each other with good deeds. We can simply be grateful and acknowledge and receive the love that someone else has shown us. I’m not sure what has happened to us as a culture, or perhaps it is the American bootstraps mentality, but we struggle to receive kindness without some form of repayment.
In smaller groups, I often ask people to share stories of kindness they have received without being able to repay it, and a few years ago, I was brought to tears by one. A woman shared that hearing this story of Fr. Donovan made her realize that her husband was telling her that he loved her every night when he made dinner for their family. You see, she worked long days and yet always came home to a meal ready. She shared that, every night, she said “thank you” to her husband, but that night she was going to say, “my love to your love.” She was going to receive dinner as what it really was: a sign of his love for her, his gratitude for her working long hours to provide for their family, a kindness he couldn’t return. She was crying as she told this story, and I joined in. It was a reminder to all of us in the room of the simple acts of gratitude happening all around us that we either come to expect or miss. How many times in our lives do we miss someone letting us know that we are loved?
It is February, a month that often brings up a lot of feelings about romantic love. I’ve enjoyed all of the push to have “Gal-entine’s Day” to celebrate your group of women friends or men reminding that Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be a one-sided event. Regardless of your relationship status, what if Valentine’s Day became a chance to thank the people you love simply for being in your life and enriching it with their hope, love, joy, and presence? What if we spent the month focused, not on roses and chocolates, but on loving all of the people God puts in our path each day, and thanking them for whatever role they play? If we scour our life experiences, are we missing someone who is doing something, as simple as providing us with a meal or a cup of coffee, to let us know we are loved and they are grateful for us? This month, I challenge you to look at gratitude as a sign of love, love given and received, and celebrate how loved you are and how much you love others.