When we are young, we are taught to say “thank you” for gifts, whether or not they instantly fill us with delight.
No doubt some mom influencer on Instagram believes this is unhealthy and a betrayal of a child’s natural spirit, and little Ryleiyghye should never be compelled to express something that doesn’t well up spontaneously from her psyche. But I think it’s a good idea to teach kids to say “thank you.” I think it’s a good idea to teach it to myself.
I have started to make myself say “thank you” to Jesus for each day when I wake up in the morning. Even before I check my phone! First I thank him for the day, then I offer it up to him, and then I ask him for help making it a worthy offering.
If you had to make a diagram, it would probably look to an outsider like a lot of arrows going back and forth for no particular reason. Thanks for the day! Here’s the day! Give me things so I can do the day! Let’s not worry about that part right now. We’ll just call it the economy of grace and let the Holy Spirit work out the details. The part I’m interested in is the “thank you.”
I struggle with mornings. I don’t fall asleep or stay asleep easily, so when I first become conscious in the morning, gratitude is not the first thing that naturally wells up in my heart. So it really is an act of will, and an act of trust, to thank God for the day that is beginning whether I want it to or not. What I have found is that, like most prayers faithfully prayed, it has begun to affect me.
What began as mere spiritual good manners has become a minor revelation. I have begun to see something that perhaps you already know and feel: That whether I would have asked for it right then or not, each day is not just a thing that happens. It is something that is given to me. I didn’t make it. I didn’t cause it to be. I have no idea what it might possibly be full of.It is even pretty likely that something excellent will come to pass or will begin to take shape to come to fruition sometime in the future. It is, whether I’m happy to have it or not, a gift.
I always think of the lepers that Jesus healed, and only one came back to thank him.
Understandable, maybe, because they were so excited and incredulous at getting their lives back so suddenly and unexpectedly. They had never met Jesus before and maybe they got caught up in the amazement of this brand new thing.
But I can’t say the same. Jesus has healed me many times, in tiny ways and in major ways, and I expect this will continue for as long as I have breath in my body. Sometimes I asked for it, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I realized right away that he was the one doing it; sometimes it took me years to catch on. But that’s what he does. He’s the healer. That’s why he came. I know this about him.
Am I grateful for this in general, even if not at this exact second? Yes, I am! So I start the day by thanking him.
Sometimes, as the day progresses, it quickly becomes obvious what I have to be grateful for. Sometimes thanking God is, as I said, purely an act of trust, because the day does not shape up like anything anyone in their right mind would receive as a gift.
But then I remember the lepers. I remember that I do know this Jesus, and I do know what kind of things he is likely to do for me. I know him, and what he is like, and I know that he is not going to stop being that way. I can trust him. So far, I have never regretted starting the day with an act of gratitude. It is changing my life.
Image: Niels Larsen Stevns: Helbredelsen af den spedalske, Healing of the Leper, 1913. Public domain
A version of this essay was originally published at The Catholic Weekly in March of 2023.