Where does thankfulness come from? I was typically ungrateful in my teens and twenties, waiting for the next handout, complaining loudly when it was slow in coming, and complaining about a lot of other things too.
Things changed a bit when I had kids. They changed a lot when I helped care for my dying father. It was in the act of caring for him in a way that he could not care for himself that I came to genuinely love him beyond what I thought he had to offer me. It set the stage for missing him the way I do now, twelve years later.
As a result, I’ve come to understand that thankfulness is a byproduct of generosity. Lack of generosity corresponds to lack of capacity for thankfulness and, ultimately, joy.
Authentic generosity isn’t motivated by the gratefulness of others. Like other parents and teachers, I pour my heart and soul into others who rarely say thanks. As I grow older and am increasingly spread thin across impossible obligations and responsibilities, what drives me onward is not the will to have but the will to give. My capacity for love is the result of what I invest in others, not what they invest in me. Generosity is fuel for life. It is a motivating force in and of itself.
For me, the newest aspect of this epiphany is the realization that in allowing others to care for me in my most helpless, vulnerable moments, I actually allow them to really love me, perhaps for the first time. In rejecting their gifts or service, I deny them the opportunity to love me fully and likewise crush my own obligation to love them back. It is a more subtle form of selfishness expressed in faux humility.
In broader context, if God is who he says he is, then his very existence finds definition in caring for us, saving us, sacrificing for us, and carrying our burdens. No wonder his love for us is so great. Conversely, no wonder our love for him and for each other is so small.