“If it’s one thing I am,” Mrs. Turpin said with feeling, “it’s grateful. When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!’ It could have been different!” —Flannery O’Connor, “Revelation”
What happens when we say “thank you”? Simply put, our gratitude is expressed, the receiver feels appreciated, and we skirt having a mindset of undue entitlement because we’ve confessed our indebtedness. It would be incredibly uncomfortable for everyone involved if a friend lent us some money and we hurriedly snatched it without so much as a headnod. Thank-yous are natural. Emotionally charged greed is not.
Right now, millions of Americans are pausing from the political arena to battle each other in the Black Friday marketplace. They spent all day yesterday giving thanks for what they have, and today they only have on their mind what they don’t.
Right now, millions of Americans are refusing to leave home, pretending to continue their Thanksgiving. They’re watching these battles on television or reading blog posts condemning unrestrained capitalism, praying, “God, thank you for not making us like these shoppers! Thank you that this household knows what Christmas is really about. (Besides, we’ll shop online in a few weeks to get some good deals.)”
In “Revelation,” Mrs. Turpin gives thanks according to her superficial worldview. A younger girl listens until her patience is exhausted, launches a book toward Mrs. Turpin’s head, and subsequently gives her a tongue-licking that she’s never had before. Mrs. Turpin’s self-perception is shattered when God shows his love in ways she couldn’t have fathomed. A vision manifests itself in which everyone she had looked down upon in her life is lifted up to heaven in front of her. She realizes (to her bewilderment) that the exalted are humbled, and those humbled by the world enter the kingdom in pride of place. This uncomfortable discovery shows her that her gratitude was nothing more than a puffing up of hollow, ephemeral niceties.
The purpose of gratitude is lost as soon as it picks up an air of irony. God doesn’t need to be told he’s appreciated; we need the reminder that what we’ve been given isn’t ours. It’s love that motivates, not egotism. Thanksgiving isn’t thanksgiving when we regard the pitiable state of another and think, “Thank God I’m not like that,” but when we know the pitiable state of our own selves and think, “Thank God I’m not what I deserve to be.”
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Noah offers Sacrifice (used with permission)