I’ve heard it said that gratitude is a form of love.
Gratitude isn’t primarily thought of as an action. It’s most often recognized as that familiar feeling of warmth and goodwill directed toward someone who has done something for us. It’s a way of returning the love back to them: a simple heartfelt “thank you.”
This idea only makes sense if love is rooted in feelings, contrary to what many of us have been taught.
I was taught, essentially, that love is duty. It’s something you do even when you don’t feel like it. It’s treating someone right, even when you don’t want to. And I believed it, because doing the right thing, even when you don’t feel like it, is better than doing the wrong thing.
But maybe we aren’t going deep enough. Maybe doing the wrong thing vs. wanting to do the wrong thing but doing the right thing anyway were never the choices on the table.
Maybe there’s another choice: to want to do the right thing. To feel like doing the right thing. To do the right thing, not in spite of how we feel, but because of it! Because we feel it deep in our souls. Because we are so filled with love and joy that we are compelled!
This, to me, is the heart of Jesus’s message.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder’…but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”…but I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart
“You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but I say, “Love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you.” [Matthew 5:21,22,27,28,43,44 NIV]
Love isn’t a duty, an obligation, or something we do even when our hearts aren’t in it. If our hearts aren’t in it, it isn’t love. It isn’t real. It’s just a shell – “whitewashed tombs… full of the bones of the dead” to put it in Jesus’s words. [Matthew 23:27 NIV]
You can’t leave the heart – the feelings, desires, intentions, motivations – out of love, because the heart is where love begins, where it takes root, where it grows from. The state or tone of your heart is the first thing that changes when love takes over. That’s why the first three fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, and peace,” and the very last one is “self-control.” Because our “want to” has to change in order for our loving actions to be genuine. True self-control replaces “duty” and “obligation” as it flows naturally out of pure and loving desires and intentions, out of a heart that is light and free, at peace with itself and the world.
Love is something that comes in, wipes the slate clean, and changes everything to the core of who a person is. In the words of the David Crowder Band:
“Heaven and earth are full, full of your glory…
My soul it overflows full of your glory,…
My cup, it can’t contain all of your glory”
This “overflowing”, this “being compelled by love” is what gratitude is. Gratitude is the state of the heart in response to such an unfathomable, ineffable, glorious love.
This Thanksgiving, my prayer is that glory would fill us and keep filling us. Let our gratitude be a genuine expression of love that overflows onto everyone and everything around us. Let it have free reign in our heart until it flows like a river – rivers of living water bursting forth into new life. Let our hearts be open to receive and our arms extended to give, an infilling of love resounding back in a song of joy: gratitude.