Thanks, The Highest Form of Thought
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Please and thanks. We teach our children these seemingly simple words from the time that they first learn to talk. We are, of course, trying to teach them the most basic elements of social respect and kindness when we do this. It is one of the habits of social behavior we want them to learn and to practice. These words form the social glue that binds us together and that creates the atmosphere of respect for one another and, at the very least, they keep us from cutting each other’s throats.
All this is certainly true at the merely social level. But thanks, in the sense that I wish to deal with here, is something other than social constraint, or mere manners. G.K. Chesterton says that, “Thanks are the highest form of thought. Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” The reason why thanks is the highest form of thought is because gratitude puts us in the frame of mind where we realize that everything we have is gift. The nature of a true gift is that it is undeserved. There is a theological term for this: Grace.
To say “thanks” as a mere matter of social manners is more often than not a thoughtless habit for us. It is a gesture only. But the thanks that Chesterton writes about here is the kind of thanks that wells up out of a soul that has suddenly come to know that its very life is a pure gift from God alone. Gratitude is the only appropriate response, it is truly the highest form of thought that a human being can experience. Gratitude is the recognition of a gift, unexpected, undeserved, freely given. It is the acknowledgment of surprise and wonder at the gift giver’s unconditional love and generosity.
In the secret center of our souls, we Christians know that God has given us everything and desires to give us even more. His love comes to us with no strings attached. When we finally come to really know God and believe in his love, it is only natural to love him in return. Yes, we are overwhelmed by this Grace. We really do not have words capacious enough to express our wonder and awe, so we let our souls, our hearts speak our gratitude for us. The Holy Spirit, who dwells in the house of our souls, knows our gratitude the moment it wells up within us.
I was reading an article this morning about a little French girl, Audrey Stevenson, She lived only to the age of 9. But she was touched by God’s love so profoundly and so innocently that she brought her nominally Christian parents and many others back to Church. It is strange, surprising, and often delightful, how God works among us. God often seems hidden from us, until, in some serendipitous moment of surprising clarity , we suddenly see His hand in all things and in every person, whether they know it or not. Audrey Stevenson was one of those little flowers that God sometimes gifts to the world to awaken it from its dullness.
One evening, while she and her family were on vacation in Brittany, France, along with an American uncle, Audrey insisted upon the family saying grace before the evening meal. Her American uncle chided her. “But Audrey, if we have to give thinks to God every time we eat, then we should be giving thanks all the time, for everything.” Audrey responded, without guile, “Yes, that’s right.” You see, Audrey, in her child born innocence, was revealing the truth here. We truly ought to be giving thanks for everything good that comes to us unbidden in every day of our lives. Our surprise, our wonder ought always be followed by gratitude.
When we rise in the morning our first prayer ought to be one of thanksgiving. When we go to bed at night we ought to review our days and give thanks for the gifts that entered our lives in the form of people, or events during the day. We ought to give thanks for all the opportunities we were given to live, to live fully, to live in the fullness of Christ. To develop the habit of gratitude, then, is to develop the highest form of thought.
Listen to David’s joyful thanks here in Psalm 65:
Praise is rightfully yours,
God, in Zion.
Happy are those you choose, whom you invite
to live in your courts.
Fill us with the good things of your house,
of your holy Temple.
Your righteousness repays us with marvels,
God our savior,
hope of all the ends of the earth
and the distant islands.
Your strength holds the mountains up,
such is the power that wraps you;
you calm the clamor of the ocean,
the clamor of its waves,
your miracles bring shouts of joy
to the portals of morning and evening.
You visit the earth and water it,
you load it with riches;
God’s rivers brim with water
to provide their grain.
This is how you provide it:
by drenching its furrows, by leveling its ridges,
by softening it with showers, by blessing the first fruits.
You crown the year with your bounty,
abundance flows wherever you pass;
the desert pastures overflow,
the hillsides are wrapped in joy,
the meadows are dressed in flocks,
the valleys are clothed in wheat,
what shouts of joy, what singing!
Thanks be to God!
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.