17 August 2017

Gratitude Police, It's Time to Take an Early Retirement

The gratitude police. Maybe you know one.

Maybe you are one.

You've heard of the fashion police, who critique other people's clothing and style choices. There's also the tone police -- internet forum bullies who derail conversations by finding fault with the way somebody worded something, instead of engaging with the issue at hand.

In similar fashion, the gratitude police are those individuals who get bent out of shape when other people complain. They are the ones who, when you confide in them that work has been tough lately, will tell that you should just be thankful you have a job.

They also tend to be martyrs. They're the ones who are most likely to say, "Well, no one cares what I think anyway" in response to disagreement. (Dissent is a huge personal affront to the gratitude police.) If they do you a favor and you fail to thank them profusely enough, or you have the gall to ask them for something else, heaven help you. These people also love to nag incessantly on the topic of "respect" and in particular the fact that they do not get all the respect they feel entitled to.

Conveniently, though regrettably, gratitude policing is easily disguised as pious concern for others' spiritual welfare. After all, Romans 1:21 says that the ungodly people aren't thankful, and we all know what happens to them, so the sooner we shut down the complainers and get everybody counting their blessings, the better, right?

I wonder how the gospel accounts of Jesus' interactions with people might read today, if He had agreed with that line of thinking (this is from Matthew 13):

54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 
56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 
57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them.... 

"People, it would be nice to see some gratitude, here. After all this free healing and teaching I've done, not to mention the fact that I'm going to DIE for you, I think it's the least you can do. And, seriously? 'The carpenter's son', that's what you call Me? I'm GOD and I'm your King! I think I deserve a little more respect than that."

Jesus "reply" in my re-imagined version of this passage represents the typical gratitude police response. It's so far off from how we imagine Jesus responding (rightly so), that maybe, just maybe, we should take it as a hint that reacting this way is... well, somewhat wide of the mark, let's say.

"But people should be thankful," I hear you saying. "'Give thanks in all circumstances....'"

Well.... that's true. But here is food for thought: true thankfulness always develops naturally as a result of spiritual growth. And other people's spiritual growth is the Holy Spirit's business, not ours. "The kindness of God leads you to repentance", and, I might add, to thankfulness. We won't be able to coax or coerce gratitude (or any other virtue) out of someone by harping on how important it is, any more than we could force a plant to grow faster by tugging on its stem. So, we might as well save ourselves some frustration, and leave other people's attitudes where they belong -- in God's hands.

There's another reason why demanding thankfulness from others is a bad idea: when we do, we mark ourselves as hypocrites. We say we want our service to meet with God's approval above all, but the fact that we try so hard to get others to approve of it too sort of plants a big question mark next to that claim. If we're really only trying to please God, why do other people's reactions matter so much?

I think we should take our cues from Jesus in this regard.

Jesus in the flesh was God Almighty, King of the universe. If anyone had the right to demand respect and recognition, He did.

Jesus died for the sins of humanity, the greatest thing one human has ever done for another. If anyone had the right to insist on appreciation and gratitude, He did.

But He didn't. Should we, who are so much less than He is, insist on it for ourselves?

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