Certainly no parent reading this column has ever said, “I don’t know why I work so hard for my children; they never seem to appreciate anything I do.” But you have probably heard other parents say that.
One of my favorite movies is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Sidney Portier, talking with his father, says that children don’t owe their parents anything. That would include gratitude. He maintains that doing the best for one’s children is simply what the job of being a parent is about. It doesn’t hinge on expressions of thanks from the children, knowing the highest moments of being a parent come in nurture, discipline, sharing of feelings and other means. If children express gratitude somewhere down the line, great. But thanks doesn’t validate one’s life any more than a lack of thanks negates it.
More than one social reformer has turned bitter because the very people whose cause he or she has undertaken have been the ones who have inflicted the deepest wounds. Entering into the fight for justice on behalf of the oppressed is a part of life, says the Christian faith. Those whose efforts are mostly “investments,” seeking certain personal returns, are often those who become first class cynics.
What is it to participate in life at its fullest, to know the maximum meaning of being human? According to the gospel, it is the joining of oneself with God in the relieving of suffering, the bringing of healing, and the end of oppression. That is life. Appreciation or not.
In the Christian faith, our concern is not that of demanding thanks. Gratitude, rather, becomes our style of life. In Christ, our whole being becomes the acting out of our thanks for God’s endless gifts to us. And while I understand that such gifts often come as judgment, negative criticism, and as a “no” in our lives, other gifts are sometimes in the form of affirmation.
It is in this second category – the expression of thanks that friends and family sometime extend – that many of us are also keenly aware of God’s love manifest through those about us. It is the love that sets us free.