"He's such a polite child," someone recently said to me, regarding my 23-month-old son, "he always says please if he wants something!"
This is true--my son learned to say please before he could even speak, in the baby sign language he learned at his day care. Once he started talking, he quickly learned to say please (usually a long, drawn out "Peeeeeeeeeeeeeez") when he asked for something--a toy, or a snack, or perhaps a cup of milk.
Call it manners if you like, but what he has really learned is that if he says please, he gets what he wants.
I'm writing today a few weeks shy of his second birthday, and it has occurred to me recently that, in contrast to how frequently he has said please over the last year, he still has not learned to say thank you. As I thought about this, I considered the fact that there is really no incentive for him to learn to say thank you. It doesn't do anything for him.
My son is not yet two years old, and so my husband and I haven't pushed the issue beyond consistent gentle encouragements to say "thank you" after we give something to him. Even if I had a thoughtful meditation on the concept of gratitude to share with him, it's going to be awhile before he would understand it.
But his reluctance to say "thank you" has certainly made me think--about how I will teach him to be grateful, and also about how much easier it is, even for adults, to say please than it is to say thank you.
And I found myself wondering how this difficulty saying "thank you" finds its way into our prayer lives. Are we more likely to say please than thank you? Do we turn to God in prayer only when we really need something?
When I speak of expressing gratitude in prayer, it's more than just a static state, or an "attitude of gratitude" as it's sometimes called. More than #blessed or #grateful. When we are truly grateful, we do not just thank God for nice homes or fancy vacations.
When we are truly grateful, we find ourselves thanking God even for those things we don't actually want, because we recognize God's presence there. Even if we never expected to find it in that particular place. Gratitude in struggle and in pain and in disappointment. This gratitude is not a breezy sentiment that follows a hashtag on a Facebook or Instagram post. This gratitude takes work.
This gratitude is not because life is perfect, but because it isn't perfect, and because God is there in the imperfections too. This gratitude calls us to find ways to thank God, even when it might be hard to figure out what it is we're thankful for:
"God, I thank you that even though today was the worst day of my life, you were with me."
"God I thank you that your love helps me to hope that tomorrow will be better."
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