Plumbing the Nature of Thanksgiving

By Ward Shope

This past summer, we remodeled our bathroom. The ubiquitous pink tile of the 1960’s standard bathroom wall – AND floor – was replaced by a white wainscoating, gray tile and bold green tint paint. Everything from closet to tub to toilet was redone. Out with the old; in with the new. Only the ceiling remains.

Before you become too impressed, though, I confess that I use the word “we” rather loosely. We did hire a company to do all of the tiling. And we also made generous use of some very willing and giving volunteers, who spent hours leading me through – and doing – a significant part of the work. I know nothing about plumbing – and confess I still remain significantly ignorant on the subject. What I do know is that the help of my friends enabled us to accomplish something in a few short weeks that probably would have taken months and lots of advice otherwise. I can’t imagine paying them back for what they gave so freely.

But then, they weren’t expecting me to either.

And that’s the nature of the relationship between the giver and the thank-er. In our commercial world, we expect the equation to equal out: I give you a certain amount of money, and you give me an equivalent product. Or I might barter my services to my neighbor in exchange for them watching my dog when we’re away. There’s nothing wrong with that – and in fact, we usually say “thank you” in these exchanges and we might even get to know our neighbors better for the sake of the kingdom.

But we are really thankful when we can’t pay someone back. They pulled our child from the wreckage of an auto accident; they talked us out of doing something we would regret forever. When things get this desperate, the giver is never thinking about whether they will be thanked. And if the thank-er is wise and humble enough, they will never be thinking about repayment.

Thanking – true thanking – always starts with a passive humility. We receive from one who freely gave. To receive graciously honors the giver. To try to pay them back frustrates the giver. It attempts to commodify their giving so that the relationship is no longer free. Your actions must somehow be tied to my actions.

The gospel sets the example of the giver-thanker relationship. God the Father gave his Son Jesus freely to die on the cross for us so that we might be present with him forever. The only way to truly honor the One who gave this gift is to receive the gift with humble thanksgiving. To respond in any other way in thought or actions is to dishonor the One who just takes great pleasure and joy in giving. Just give thanks.

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  –Romans 1:21