When I’m ungrateful and unloving and angry at my wife and impatient with my kids and bitter about some inconvenient providence, that I’ve lost sight of who God is and who I am? If I truly grasped who he is, and what’s he’s done for me, and what he’s promised to do for me, would I be wallowing in self-pity, or would I feel a bit more, say, gratitude? Maybe the first thing to do is to remind myself to say “Thank you.”
Why do we teach our kids to say “Thank you”?
Is it simply that saying “Thank you” is part of the politeness that’s expected in our culture, and we want our kids to function well with other people when they grow up? Is the point just to recite the expected formula at the expected time? I don’t think so.
I believe we teach our kids to say “Thank you” because we want them to learn to be thankful. By requiring them to say that they’re thankful, we’re impressing upon them the ideal of actually feeling gratitude for the things that we receive. Gratitude like this is not natural to us as fallen creatures ; it has to be learned, and it’s something we want to impart to our children.
That is to say, we not only want our children to do the right thing, but we want them to feel the right thing. When I give my daughter a cookie she ought to feel thankful – she just got a cookie! If she doesn’t feel thankful, that’s something we’ll have to work on together, not only so that she can be a better person, but so that she can be a happier person.
It seems to me that for the most part we function on the assumption that we can be required to do the right thing, but not to feel the right thing. We understand that we’re responsible for our actions, and that it’s incumbent on us to make them conform to God’s standard of right and wrong. Emotions, on the other hand, don’t seem like something we choose as much as something that happens to us. How could I even respond to a command to feel a certain way?
And yet the Bible doesn’t share this assumption that feelings can’t be commanded. “Rejoice always” (1 Thess 5:16) doesn’t mean “act joyful.” It means “be joyful 1.” “Weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15) doesn’t mean “act sorry,” but that we should actually feel sorrow.