If thankfulness is our recognition of the way that something makes our life better and our ability to come to rest in goodness, isn't gratefulness pretty much the same thing? We often use the words as synonyms, but gratefulness is actually a bit different.
Thankfulness is fairly self-centered; it is a reflection on the subjective impact that something has made in our lives. Gratefulness, however, is more other-centered. Gratefulness is a reflection on the cost that something exacted. It's a reflection on the sacrifice that someone or something else made to facilitate whatever you're thankful for.
When you are thankful for hot food, you are reflecting on the way that it satisfies your belly. When you are grateful for it, you recognize the hands that went into preparing it. That's the difference.
We are, too often, a self-centered people, and that's why it's so easy for us not to recognize this. We are tempted to call everything thankfulness and let it just be that. We are tempted to think that we are simply thankful - and often, we are - and that that is enough. But the truth is that most of us are doing gratefulness without even recognizing it.
We're doing gratefulness, and we're calling it thankfulness, not bothering to differentiate between the two. We're doing gratefulness, and we're calling it thankfulness, and magically, it somehow becomes that - a reflection on ourselves instead of on the thing or person that we're actually grateful for.
But it changes something in our living, something in our loving, when we recognize gratefulness for what it is. It changes the nature of our experience when we realize that we aren't thankful; we're grateful. It gets us outside of ourselves and adds a depth of meaning to what we're engaged in. It forces us to remember not only that it's not all about us, but that we're not alone here.
Gratefulness is an act of connectedness. It's an expression of community and relationship. It's got to do with more than our own pleasure or satisfaction; it's soul-deep, even more than the rest that goodness brings into our lives. It starts to bring us toward that goodness that is not being alone, which is the only thing in all creation God ever said was not very good. Gratefulness puts us square into being together because someone or something made a sacrifice that made something possible in our lives, and that doesn't just make our lives/our world better; it makes it bigger.
And that's a beautiful thing.
Today, we're all talking about how thankful we are, and that's great. And we should be. But let us not forget to be grateful, too. Because so much of what's happening in our lives is made possible at a cost - a cost that someone or something else is paying for us.