Slideshow image

The Grammar of Gratitude

To get and to receive. These are the two modes of living that sustain us. Both provide for us, but they are markedly different. In the one I am the subject, in the other the object.

When I am the subject, the activity of getting is mine to do. Words like work, earn, achieve, effort, deserve, reward and ambition all become part of my vocabulary. These words are tied to competency and my sense of worth. I perceive life as the sum of my effort and energy. Success is what I can win with my talent, education and measure of luck. Because I am doing all the action, an attitude of pride, possession and protection, takes over. I have to guard what I have won. While that seems to make sense, it leads to a white-knuckle fear. It dawns on us that, if life is what I can grab by my drive and ambition, forces larger than my grip can take them from me. So, I worry.

I do not argue against the value of work, but I recognize there is another perspective. The other mode of sustenance is to receive. Instead of being the subject responsible to get, I am the object of another’s actions. Something is done to me or for me. That ushers in a different language. Now my mouth is filled with words like gift, kindness, blessing, love, mercy and most of all - grace. These words are not tied to worth, effort, ingenuity or ability, because I am not the subject. God is the Subject and I am enriched by His gifts. Paul challenges the Corinthians with the rhetoric, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor.4:7). Their answer and ours is the same. All of life, from birth to death, is about receiving. I do not earn sunsets, robust health, family giggles, breath or Divine smiles. These are given to me. When I wave my paycheque as evidence of my ability to get, God reminds me that every resource I employed was a gift. I may perceive two paths of provision - God sees only one.

Here is the surprise. Receiving delivers as much as getting (perhaps more) but with a different effect. Not only are my needs met by grace but also, my soul is shaped by His generosity. Fear of loss is shunted by faith in the goodness of the Giver. The subject’s ego is enveloped by the object’s humility. The applause I hear is less about my heroic efforts. It becomes praise to the Giver. The cynical suggest that such an attitude encourages laziness, dependence or entitlement. I can only answer that the risk of grace abused seems to be a risk God is willing to take. But also, experience teaches me that those who see life as grace don’t slide into sloth. They grow into freedom, generosity and praise. Shifting from subject to object doesn’t reduce my responsibilities or vacate my schedule. It nurtures another gift. Our lives are flooded with gratitude.