I don't remember where I was going, but I will never forget where I was. It was July 2008. I was heading east, toward Chicago, dressed in a suit so most likely I was heading to work. I was speaking to my mother on my cell phone during my drive and she spoke the words I had longed to hear for 41 years. "Ami, I wish I could be as strong and determined as you are. I am so proud of you and the woman you have become, and I am so grateful I got to be your mom." I have never felt more loved up until then or since than I did that summer morning. While I would have loved to have been able to have her hug me after that, melting into the surrounding of the light tan leather captain seat of my white Ford Explorer had to suffice. That moment, as fleeting as it was, as forgotten by my mother as it is, is my most cherished memory of her. She expressed something that I know was extremely difficult for her to say, and near impossible for me to receive, but I was so deeply grateful to have heard.
Unexpressed gratitude is experienced as ingratitude. My heart can feel grateful, but until I express my gratitude with a grateful prayer, a spoken blessing, a note of thanksgiving, or a phone call of appreciation—I only conceal what I feel.
Very few things sting in a relationship other than the feeling of ingratitude or feeling unappreciated. The reason it stings is because it's the exact opposite of what we expect and think we deserve. You know, we do something for somebody, we serve them, put ourselves out there, sacrifice for them...we raise them or we marry them, perhaps we hire them, we give them things and everything seems to be going their way and so we understandably expect something to come back our way, and when it doesn't, it stings.
Ingratitude can be the behaviors that somebody exhibits or it can be a lack of behavior. But either way, ingratitude stings, and we’ve been on both sides of this. In fact, here’s the interesting thing about ingratitude. The recipient of unappreciation is always aware of the ingratitude, right? If you’re in a relationship with someone and they’re ungrateful, it’s not a mystery to you. You’re always aware of it. The interesting thing is the initiator or the ungrateful person is rarely aware of it. This is one of the mysteries in relationships. You can be going along fine thinking everything’s great, and then all of a sudden, somebody comes along and they say, “I just don’t feel like you appreciate me.”
This past summer, I was spending time with a friend. They led a missions team for their church that was preparing for a trip to the Dominican Republic. They had invited their team to their home for a Sunday evening preparation meeting. To serve them, as I wasn't part of the team, I volunteered to make dinner for the ten of them. Honestly, not a big sacrifice for me as I love to be in the kitchen, but it was a small way for me to give and serve those who were preparing to give to and serve others. I cooked and prepared and cleaned all day and the spread was fabulous. My heart was full for having helped. My friend was last to serve themselves and as they filled their plate, they looked at me and said accusatorily, "You did all this but you didn't put out mayo?" The criticism cut deep and immediately drained my overflowing heart. Here, my heart was overjoyed to have made an incredible meal and all this person could say was one tiny thing that I forgot? Honestly, I would have never thought to put out mayo with what I was serving anyway but their ingratitude and utter unappreciative words felt like rejection, hurt me deeply, and set that relationship on a trajectory that ultimately was unrepairable.
It's not feeling the emotion of gratefulness but the act of expressing our gratitude that can close the loop. In fact, gratitude and ingratitude are relationally determinative. Gratitude and ingratitude actually determine how much of yourself you are willing to entrust to another and they to you. When we feel taken for granted, we instinctively withhold part of ourselves not to be hurt. Our heart's response naturally gravitates toward recognition and gratitude. We can't help it, it is just naturally what happens. Whatever relationship you're in, with whoever you're in it with - refuse to be out-gratefulled. Lavish the other with gratitude and watch what happens to them, to you, and the health of that relationship.
"On the way to Jerusalem, he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19
This whole story is a picture of life as it really is. First, it is a picture of the abundant grace of God. This is a cure by wholesale—a whole hospital healed with only a word, ten at a time. It is a vast miracle. Second, it is a picture of prevalent ingratitude. Nine out of ten people will probably forget every blessing they ever receive. Third, it is a picture of unexpected grace. Grateful hearts often pop up where you least expect them. Luke doesn’t say so directly, but I think he implies that the nine were Jews. If that’s so, then what this story really means is that those who should have been most grateful weren’t. And the one man who shouldn’t have come back did.
These two verses tell us something very interesting about Jesus. Thanking Him for the blessings we receive is very important to Him. Jesus was very much aware that only one returned to give Him thanks. Jesus notices gratitude—and ingratitude. Now, I don’t know about you, but as I studied through this passage, I couldn’t help but question how it didn't occur to the nine to just say thank you. I am sure they felt grateful after having their earthly existence transformed. But they didn't express it and thus, Jesus noticed.
What is your gratitude quotient? As we consider our own GQ's, we have to be aware that too often we are content to enjoy the gift but we forget the giver. We are quick to pray but slow to praise.
Gratitude is not just a nice addition to a generally good character. It is indispensable to Christian character. Gratitude is the highest duty of the believer and the supreme virtue, the fountain from which all other blessings flow. Ingratitude is leprosy of the soul. It eats away on the inside, destroys our happiness in relationships, cripples our joy, withers our compassion, paralyzes our praise, and renders us numb to all the blessings of God.
One last point. In the verse above Luke shares one incredible truth with us: By returning to Jesus, this former leper received something far greater than physical healing. He was also saved from his sins. Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well” or literally, “Your faith has saved you.” The Samaritan’s friends were declared clean by the priests, but this man was declared saved by the Son of God! The greatest lesson we can learn from this passage is: To appreciate God’s many gifts, but first thank Him for His greatest gift. And while you're at it, hug your mom, your children, your brother, your spouse and express with your lips what you feel in your heart. Your thanksgiving will thank me.
While I cannot hug each of you and say to you how grateful I am, I pray that by writing it, it will be received deeply by you. I am so incredibly thankful for you reading and sharing what God puts on my heart to write. May God richly bless you and your families this glorious Thanksgiving holiday.